Internet connectivity is essential to thrive in the modern world. With South Bend Open Wi-Fi, residents and visitors can do research, apply for jobs, find a new passion, or stay in touch with friends. This public access means those without mobile internet or broadband in their homes can get online with a free, reliable connection around the community.
Especially since 13.9% of households in South Bend don’t have a broadband subscription (2020 American Community Survey) and the COVID-19 pandemic has sped up the shift of daily activities online, we are using new state and federal funding increase the reach of South Bend Open Wi-Fi to connect more residents. By the end of 2023, we will grow Open Wi-Fi to include an estimated 185 access points, surpassing our goal of tripling the network’s current footprint and continuing the expansion of Open Wi-Fi into neighborhoods beyond downtown.
In January of 2022, we began this process with a phased approach, outlined below.
PLANNING AND AWARENESS PHASE (EARLY-MID 2022)
ENGAGING RESIDENTS. RENEWING OUR BRAND.
In this phase, we laid the groundwork for this initiative by reviewing potential sites for impact and feasibility and by conducting a community outreach process to gather resident feedback on potential sites. These processes are explained further in the sections below.
We also revitalized the Open Wi-Fi brand in this phase. During our community outreach, we heard that residents weren’t sure which locations had Open Wi-Fi. Especially as we work to expand this network, we want to help people easily identify and connect with Open Wi-Fi.
We have installed stickers and signs around town with a new Open Wi-Fi logo and identity to let residents know where Open Wi-Fi is available. These stickers also encourage residents to call 311 if they have trouble connecting to the network, which is a new resource we also added during this phase. Finally, we created a new landing page on the City’s website about how and where to access the network.
EXPANSION PHASE I (MID-LATE 2022)
21 City-affiliated sites. 86 access points. 154% network growth.
For the first expansion phase of this initiative, we are focusing on City-affiliated sites, including parks, fire stations, and community centers. 19 City-owned sites and 2 City-partnered sites (the Studebaker Museum and the Potawatomi Zoo) were identified based on internal conversations with City staff, with sites prioritized based on the feasibility of an installation, the needs of the surrounding area, and the usability for residents.
These sites will include an estimated 86 access points, already more than doubling the total reach of Open Wi-Fi. Installation for these sites are already underway with new sites going up each week. They will be completed by the end of 2022. See a list and map of these sites below.
Note: Muessel Park is currently undergoing renovation to be completed in late 2022/early 2023, and Open Wi-Fi will be installed following this renovation.
EXPANSION PHASE II (LATE 2022-MID 2023)
141 resident nominations. 10 priority sites. 43 access points.
For the second expansion phase, we are focusing on sites nominated by residents in our feedback gathering process. In early 2022, we received 141 nominations from residents, including online submissions and feedback at in-person events.
After closing our nomination period in April, our team began reviewing and prioritizing sites based on the following criteria:
- Nominations: How many residents submitted complete nominations for this site?
- Feasibility: How difficult would it be to install Open Wi-Fi at this site? Key considerations for this include the amount of fiber optic cable to be installed to connect the site to the ChoiceLight fiber network that powers Open Wi-Fi, the number of access points needed to connect the site, and whether the site has an indoor or outdoor use case.
- Impact: What is the broadband adoption rate of the surrounding area? Are there any special considerations this site should receive based on how people might use it?
With these criteria, our team created a scoring matrix to prioritize locations to see the full prioritization list, with scores for each of the 44 eligible nominated sites, click below.
Note: these sites have been screened for ineligible use cases (e.g. sites that already have public Wi-Fi) or incomplete nominations. Some have been combined to create corridors/groups for simplicity.
In expansion phase II, we are focusing on 10 priority sites to be installed between late 2022 and mid 2023. See a list and map of these priority sites below.
Each of these 10 sites scored a minimum of 10 on our prioritization matrix (out of 15). Because many of these sites are not City-affiliated, this represents an evolution for Open Wi-Fi as we connect residents in new ways. We are therefore using these 10 sites as a pilot, with the hope of connecting additional sites in this prioritization list in expansion phase III (described below).
Our team has confirmed with each non City-affiliated site that they will partner with our team to provide access to the network without discrimination. We currently estimate that these 10 sites will require 43 access points to connect, with installation to begin in late 2022 after the completion of expansion phase I. Though we hope to connect more of these resident-nominated sites in future phases, any site with a score below 10 will not receive Open Wi-Fi before mid 2023.
EXPANSION PHASE III (MID 2023 AND BEYOND)
LEARNING FROM PHASE II. CONTINUING TO GROW.
Following expansion phase II, we plan to learn from our resident-nominated pilot sites, particularly focusing on best practices for installation and management as well as data on resident utilization. In expansion phase III, we will connect more resident-nominated sites in our prioritization list that were not served in expansion phase II.
Additionally, our scoring matrix will be updated before mid 2023 to reflect changes in broadband access, fiber availability, and resident usability for each site. We expect feasibility scores to especially shift between now and expansion phase III as we work to expand the availability of dark fiber in corridors throughout South Bend.
Our team is eager to continue engaging with community members as we implement expansion phases I and II and continue to plan for expansion phase III. If you have thoughts or suggestions you would like to share with us, please contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.