Free WiFi for city housing projects hits snag

Published: Oct. 16, 2012 at 1:25 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2012 at 3:22 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Free Internet service could soon be a reality to help with education and workforce development in some of Richmond's poorest communities. One local company says it can be done without taxpayer dollars. Organizers say all they need is a little help when it comes to a small roof space on a government building to put their WiFi antenna.

Developers say use of those few feet can lessen poverty levels in the city.

Think about what would happen if your children didn't have regular access to the Internet to help with their school work or if you were out of work and didn't have access to websites to help with your job search. For many people, especially those living in city projects, that is a harsh reality and a dilemma Corey Hitt has been contemplating.

"There's a direct relation between lack of education and lack of opportunities with poverty and crime and I think if we solve the education piece, if we solve the job training, if we solve getting jobs for people then that gets them out of those locations," he explained.

As part of "Project Oliver Hill Way," Hitt says he could make WiFi available to Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority residents through the placement of antennas and access points. All they'd need is a computer.

It would cost $20-$25,000 per RRHA property, all of which Hitt says will be raised in the private sector.

"They're point to point wireless," he added. "The bottom radio transmits. The top part of the dish receives the signal."

From the vantage point of where the originating antenna would be you can see many buildings in the downtown Richmond skyline. The problem, though, comes from when you try and shoot from one of those buildings to the RRHA properties on the south and north sides of the river. The only place where you don't have a line of sight connection issue is the James Monroe Building.

That's where the hurdles begin. The state turned down the request to install an antenna there. Hitt says they've tried to contact city and state leaders, but have had no luck.

"In order to do this we need to think outside of the box and I think this network as a public service is thinking outside of the box," he maintained.

An RRHA spokesperson called the project groundbreaking but explained there are no current plans for it.

The mayor's press secretary didn't have any concrete information on the proposal, but pointed to the mayor's heavy focus on poverty mitigation.

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