Meta Mesh Wireless Communities has seen its share of changes in just a few months, from new leadership to an infusion of grant dollars. Now, it’s getting a new name to go with an expanded approach to bringing the internet to underserved communities.
Founded in 2015, the Allentown-based organization has spent the past year working to take the internet directly to the people who need it most through its Every1online initiative, which provides the necessary receiver, router and other tech and connects them to a private Wi-Fi network free of charge. The network is anchored by signal towers on top of buildings such as University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning in Oakland. (More on that here.)
Costs are covered by local stakeholders like school districts or businesses. Additionally, the Every1online initiative has been funded through grants such as the $1.4 million grant awarded by the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the Hopper-Dean Foundation this past January. The goal was to use the funding to expand the organization’s outreach from 100 users to 1,000 people newly online by the end of 2022. So far, the org has managed to bring coverage to areas including Coraopolis, Homewood and Wilkinsburg, with plans to launch a fiber optic network as well as a wireless network for Johnstown residents at the end of the year, Executive Director Colby Hollabaugh told Technical.ly.
While at the Oaklander Hotel commemorating both the Every1online initiative making it through its first year and the nonprofit successfully completing nearly 100 installations, Hollabaugh said the team had recently been reflecting on the org’s past and thinking about the future.
“We worked together as a staff to talk about how we valued the next part of our experience, and what we really took away was that our community was the center of the story we wanted to tell,” he said after addressing the organization’s supporters at the happy hour event last Wednesday.
To go along with its vision for the organization’s future, Meta Mesh Wireless Communities will now be called Community Internet Solutions.
Why? According to Hollabaugh, along with the pride the organization takes in the work it’s done in communities like New Kensington and Homewood, the previous name suggests that the future is only wireless, whereas Hollabaugh says there will be many roads to connecting residents to internet access.
“Some communities will need wireless connectivity — picture a home really far off the beaten path — [and] wireless will be a very viable solution for them for a long time,” Hollabaugh said. “But there’s other technologies [like] CBRS [Citizens Broadband Radio Service], technologies that allow us to connect communities efficiently using community-based infrastructure for hosting water towers, buildings, etc. We’ll provide [users with] higher-speed connectivities, more resilience in the future, and better ability to update or upgrade their bandwidth needs as the community grows.”
Hollaborough, who is new in his role as of May 2022, stressed that what’s now Community Internet Solutions will keep working to ensure that underserved Pittsburghers aren’t deprived of participating in the 21st century because of where they live. As of 2020, roughly 800,000 Pennsylvania households still lack consistent access, and the same year a Pittsburgh Public Schools survey found that virtual learning wasn’t accessible for 1,500 of its 23,000 students because they lacked internet access.
“A hundred connections in one year is a really big task for a nonprofit,” Hollabaugh said. “Once someone brings to our attention the need in a community, we’ll work together to assess existing infrastructure and connection to meet that community’s internet needs.”
Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supportedby the Heinz Endowments.