As the pandemic continues to cast a brighter spotlight on the digital divide and its disastrous impact on communities, it's becoming clear that large-scale broadband builds are not addressing the problem fast enough. New and supplemental solutions may be needed to connect communities quickly and to meet individual challenges to getting people online: whether those are specific to location, income, policy or something else.
That's the thinking behind a new initiative from US Ignite called "Project Overcome," an effort to accelerate broadband delivery to unserved and underserved communities.
Project Overcome is supported by a $1.945 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which US Ignite says in a press release "will support the selection and buildout of five proof-of-concept network deployments designed to connect both rural and urban communities in novel ways."
Lee Davenport, director of community development for US Ignite, tells Broadband World News that the partnership with NSF formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, spurred by the need for new solutions to connect those in need.
"We're looking forward to seeing the wide array of solutions that meet communities where they are," says Davenport. The goal is to uncover "simple, discrete, manageable projects that can be launched and run within a year," he adds.
Mari Silbey, senior director of partnerships and outreach at US Ignite, says the expectation is there are combinations of technologies out there and different ways of deploying them that have yet to be experimented with, but may provide solutions. "There are lots of new assets out there now, whether new spectrum available, new devices or new software that make the operations of a network simpler," she says.
As part of Project Overcome, US Ignite will also collect data to measure the impacts of different connectivity strategies in an effort to discover patterns of success that can be duplicated in communities across the country.
Deep Medhi, program director for NSF's Computer & Network Systems (CNS) division, says the data-driven element of this project is particularly important to NSF. He tells Broadband World News that the organization will work with experts in behavioral sciences to determine the social impacts of these micro-deployments to better inform and support larger-scale future builds.
US Ignite plans to issue a call for proposals within the month. Projects will be selected based on their use of innovative technologies (like mesh networks and spectrum access solutions) and "creative deployment models" that involve public and private partners.
Winners will be announced early spring 2021, followed by a fast transition to a deployment phase.
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor, Light Reading