- Partners of the Detroit Community Technology Project building out Equal Internet Initiative in their communities.
Detroit: the face of post-industrial economic decay in America. High foreclosure rates and bad credit steered telecommunication companies away from providing internet access in many Detroit neighborhoods. In 2013, nearly 40 percent of households in the city lacked internet.
A year later, in 2014, the Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP) was born. Community organizers and tech experts built their own infrastructure, running internet through the neighborhoods abandoned by telecom companies. Radio Kingston Technical Director Kale Kaposhilin was inspired to bring this model—the Equitable Internet Initiative (EII)—to Kingston. "It's powerful the way folks [in Detroit] have come together because no one was coming to save them," Kaposhilin says.
A nonprofit radio station with a social justice agenda, Radio Kingston will build a local wireless network over the next three years to provide low-cost internet service outside the corporate telecom system. Radio Kingston is working with Community Tech NY—the New York chapter of the Equitable Internet Initiative—on bringing EII to the city. CTNY has guided other neighborhoods in New York City and upstate New York with internet access creation and tech knowledge.
The initiative isn't only about giving people internet access, nor does it end with Radio Kingston. Residents also learn how to build and sustain this technology themselves. It's a project owned by the community because it's created and run by the community. A digital stewards training program provides residents with the skills to build and maintain a resilient digital ecosystem.
CTNY Director Greta Byrum highlights that those who learn how to install the internet-enabling equipment in and around homes, offices, and other buildings typically aren't tech experts. But they're experts of their communities—grassroots activists, church leaders, and after-school program directors. "They know how to get in touch with the community about this project and how to get people excited about it," she says. "They know how to tie the work we're doing with digital infrastructures with what's happening in a community," she says.
For EII trainer and advocate of the original DCTP Monique Tate, the success of EII stems from this personal understanding. "We can get beyond doors because we don't have to first gain trust. We are already working with community members who have that trust," she says. "They are anchored in their communities, fighting for fair water, housing, and transit."
In Detroit, that problem-solving spirit nurtured communication boards for urban farmers, solar-powered charging stations and WiFi hubs, and air quality measuring technology in neighborhoods with high asthma rates. Kaposhilin is excited for what's in store for Kingston. "We cannot predict all of the beautiful things that our community will come up with and the way in which their imagination will be excited by this possibility," he says.