OTI Proposes Wireless Networks for Resilience in NYC

The Open Technology Institute has proposed a series of mesh networks and community-based trainings to make New York City more resilient to the effects of climate change. The proposal is part of the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s RISE:NYC competition, which is identifying and deploying creative new technologies to promote recovery from Superstorm Sandy and mitigate the impacts of future storms, floods and power outages. OTI’s proposal builds on our experience deploying mesh networks in the field, particularly the Red Hook WiFi network, which kept that part of Brooklyn connected when large-scale commercial networks failed due to Superstorm Sandy.

OTI’s proposal is a collaboration with Sky Packets (one of the country’s leading installers of neighborhood Wi-Fi networks), community anchor institutions across the city’s five boroughs, and more than five dozen local small businesses. In addition to Wi-Fi coverage in up to nine areas of the city, OTI would conduct training programs in six neighborhoods: Stapleton, the Rockaways, the South Bronx, the Lower East Side, Gowanus, and Long Island City. The plan is modeled after the Red Hook mesh network, which is currently maintained and governed by the Red Hook Initiative and the Red Hook Digital Stewards. OTI has developed the Digital Stewards training curriculum to go along with mesh network construction to facilitate neighborhood self-sufficiency with technology.

In line with the RISE:NYC focus on small businesses, the proposal focuses primarily on ensuring that small businesses will have a robust neighborhood Wi-Fi solution and a reliable backup communications service in moments of crisis, but our model uses all aspects of network construction as an opportunity for public education and economic development. A core design principle of our mesh networks is that healthy relationships in a community are the foundation for useful technology initiatives, economic development, and self-sufficiency. OTI’s model for building resilient wireless builds the human capital of a neighborhood: the Digital Stewards, the relationships among residents and business owners, and the shared commitment of all to the well-being of the community.

After Sandy, many neighborhoods found a new spirit of collaboration and mutual support. Our proposal will help capture that spirit and translate it into durable communications infrastructure.

Authors:

Greta Byrum is the director of the Resilient Communities program at New America. She reimagines the way we design, build, and manage communications systems to support local residents as leaders, organizers, and preparedness experts.

Joshua Breitbart, a former senior advisor for New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, coordinated a team of researchers, organizers, graphic designers and technologists to learn how people adopt new technologies and participate in discussions of telecommunications policy.