Knight Foundation pledges $25M for community broadband

The Knight Foundation has pledged $25 million during the next five years to accelerate broadband access projects in 26 U.S. communities. Akron, Ohio, will be the first community to obtain a grant to deploy a free public WiFi network that will cover 12 square miles.

OneCommunity, a non-profit company that has built a high-speed fiber-optic network between public and nonprofit institutions in Ohio, will run the Knight Center of Digital Excellence. The center will collect and share international best practices online with communities everywhere. It will also provide on-the-ground aid to the Knight communities to develop technology strategies and enable connectivity in communities. The foundation granted $4.5 million to OneCommunity to launch the new center and has pledged another $10.5 million to cover operational costs for five years. Knight's initiative also includes a $10 million Digital Opportunity fund offering challenge grants to Knight communities.

Akron will be the national center's headquarters and will get a $625,000 grant. Akron's wireless network will cost $2.2 million to build and will use OneCommunity's regional fiber-optic network as its backhaul.

According to Craig Settles, head of technology consulting firm, the Knight Foundation's move is significant for the muni-WiFi market for several reasons.

"A major requirement for recipients of the foundation's matching grants is to have a developed, credible plan for their network project to financially sustain itself, meaning generate revenue and funds for on-going operations. This was a facet missing in so many muni network projects," Settles said.

Settles also noted that the Knight Foundation is aggressively evolving the anchor-tenant relationship to include several constituent groups, not just local governments as the single main customer on a network.

For more about the Knight Foundation's grant:
- check out this release