University of Maryland Baltimore County
Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE)
This project responds to COVID-19 by investigating an effective and efficient community-based approach in Baltimore City, Maryland to deploying free, broadband Internet and creating trusted open-access online education, career, and communication resources for low-income populations in the face of large-scale emergencies. This approach builds on existing research on the importance of equitable broadband Internet access and the potential of community-based solutions to bridging the digital divide. Project findings will inform the creation and use of community-led approaches to meet the technical and informational needs of vulnerable populations during and immediately following times of crisis. Specifically, it will research the creation of a trusted technical infrastructure that leverages local partnerships to provide free or low-cost Internet to communities. It will also inform how to maximize the potential of Internet connectivity to maintain continuity of education and employment activities and reduce social isolation among low-income populations. This project will create a Community Wireless Networks (CWNs) through the deployment in Baltimore City, Maryland of a series of Point-to-Point (PtP) and Point-to-Multipoint (PtMP) connections over the 5GHz spectrum. These Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) radios mounted on Points of Presence (PoP) at partner sites will provide free and secure, high throughput links to families in need. As this access is created, the project will then curate and provide support resources to facilitate the continuity of education, the expansion of teleworking career opportunities, and virtual socialization methods. The impact of these interventions will be studied through pre- and post-intervention surveys as well as remote interviews with stakeholders to evaluate the impact of having free high-bandwidth Internet on low-income families’ access to online educational, employment, and social resources both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, at the conclusion of the project participating families and community partners will offer reflections and suggestions for the future implementation of similar projects in a community focus group. Project findings seek to further inform how to meet the informational needs of vulnerable populations using a grass-roots, community-based, technology-access approach during and immediately following times of crisis. This project is highly relevant to Smart and Connected Communities program as it demonstrates tight integration of social and technology research and strong community engagement will be able to have significant impact improving quality of life in vulnerable communities in this and potentially other crises.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.