Lily Pad –Closing the Digital Divide in Cincinnati

Lily Pad Free Wi-Fi
A few days ago, I wrote this post on social entrepreneurs trying to close the digital divide.  Well, here is another free wifi initiative that seems to be working, but using a slightly different approach.
Project Lily Pad is a free wifi initiative based in Cincinnati, Ohio.  What differentiates Project Lily Pad from other free wifi initiatives is that it copied the “Adopt-A-Highway” model to build out and fund its network.  InformationWeek reports that:

the partnership combines efforts from the City of Cincinnati, Time Warner Cable, and the Lily Pad non-profit organization. The endeavor has already resulted in the establishment of more than 20 Lily Pads or “pods,” each with numerous hotspots and still more access points. Another 55 or more are slated to be established in the coming weeks.


Following a model popular on many U.S. highways — the “Adopt A Highway” program — the Lily Pad group enlisted volunteers and designed a system that called for small donations to sponsor individual hotspots for three years. “A family might sponsor a community square for $150 a month,” said Rybold, “or a larger area for $500.”

Also notable is that Time Warner Cable is serving as the sponsor of the riverfront hotspot.  Its great to see big cable and telecom companies sponsoring initiatives that they typically would label a threat to their business.

The article also emphasizes the grass roots nature of the project, stating that the goal is not to blanket the entire municipality with wifi, but to place access points in key social spaces.

There is A LOT going on in this space, so I’ll try to report on the best and most interesting cases.

Social Entrepreneurs Focused On Closing the Digital Divide

Free Wi-Fi
I’ve been spending a bit of time researching free and advertising-supported wi-fi because I think its a practicial solution for the digital divide issue that we face today.

The 100 dollar laptop project is related but focuses on international, whereas I am concentrating specifically on solving the problem in the inner cities of the US. There are many independent initiatives happening across the US, and one of the technologies I’ve been keeping a close eye on is the RoofNet project over at MIT.

This low cost mesh network technology has been deployed by various non-profit organizations across the country, including networks built by MIT itself. Aside from their Cambridge campus hotspot, MIT’s feature hotspot is a deployment in the downtown Boston housing complex called Tent City.

On the other side of the country, NetEquality is deploying low income internet access in NE Portland, Oregon based on MIT’s RoofNet technology.
As you can see, its a very grass roots oriented movement, complemented very well by a technology thats low cost, and built from parts available at any Radio Shack.

Check out both the MIT and NetEquality website to get inspired and also to get instructions on how to build your own wifi hotspot!