Pilot program expands broadband access, serves as beacon of light to combat digital disparities
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
The City recently installed two solar-powered smart poles as part of a larger initiative to expand broadband access and affordability. The current locations, Pungo-Blackwater Library and the future site of the Virginia African American Cultural Center (VAACC), are situated in underserved communities.
"The VAACC is proud to share that in an effort to help address the current virtual needs of our youths and families, we approved partnering with the City's Information Technology (IT) Department and their broadband consultant to install a smart pole on our property at 744 Hampshire Lane (near the basketball courts). We appreciate the IT team for collaborating on this public-facing project," said Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond, founder of the VAACC and recently appointed chair of Mayor Bobby Dyer's Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Commission.
Implementing the smart poles has helped shed light in more ways than one. Beyond providing internet hotspots, the 24-foot poles are outfitted with LED lighting and designed to resemble regular streetlamps.
"This smart pole will serve the dual role of a broadband hotspot connection for education purposes, and solar lighting which provides more safety for the youth and their families visiting the basketball courts or the picnic shelter. This is great news worth celebrating for our Western Bayside community. The VAACC's three keywords are Curate, Cultivate and Communicate, and this installation certainly fulfills our vision for a connected, inclusive and educated community," said Dr. Ross-Hammond.
Last month, Mayor Dyer delivered his 2021 State of the City address, which underscored how technology will guide the City's future beyond the pandemic. Broadband expansion aligns with the City's commitment to advancing education, economic development and other key areas.
"Connectivity is more than a lifestyle – it's a lifeline," said Peter Wallace, the City's chief information officer. "The pandemic put a glaring spotlight on the digital divide and how it affects rural and urban neighborhoods. Wi-Fi is available at our libraries and recreation centers, but we need to ensure broadband services are accessible for all residents, even when these facilities are shut down or otherwise unavailable."
Wallace describes smart poles as a scalable, supplementary solution for a broader issue that requires additional resources, such as state and federal grants.
"Remote work and e-learning are impossible without reliable broadband," said Wallace. "Increased funding will support more families and students as they acclimate to virtual environments. The City's fiber has brought us a step closer to making universal high-speed internet access a reality for our residents but, receiving appropriate state and federal funding will guarantee we are able to improve and expand this vital infrastructure."
Smart pole deployment is a quick and convenient way for citizens to access high-speed internet, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The City applied for and received Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to cover the associated costs for one year.