During the pandemic, over 40 communities across the country built wireless networks to address the unaffordability of internet service. These wireless networks proved to be a useful tool for communities in their attempt to address internet affordability. As such, NDIA submitted comments to the U.S. Department of the Treasury in response to the recently released Interim Final Rule for local and state governments suggesting gap networks be considered an eligible expense under the “Assistance to Households” section outlined in Sec. 602 and Sec. 603 of the American Rescue Plan’s Act of 2021.

In our comments, NDIA demonstrated why gap networks–networks designed to offer very affordable or no-cost internet access for lower-income households with low broadband adoption rates–should be considered as an affordability tool instead of a tool to address broadband availability. 

Our comments also include three examples of communities in the process of constructing gap networks to address affordability:

  • DigitalC, a nonprofit organization in Cleveland, OH, is deploying and operating a wireless broadband network (EmpowerCLE) to households in the city’s worst-connected low income neighborhoods, working closely with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the county’s main safety-net hospital system (MetroHealth), the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority and numerous community and social service organizations. EmpowerCLE provides reliable fixed wireless internet access at 50/10 Mbps for a monthly cost of about $18, with further discounts often provided through partner subsidies. EmpowerCLE is supported by the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, both of which have expressed interest in possible ARPA funding to assist with a major expansion of the network that would enable it to connect thousands of additional households and serve more low-income Cleveland neighborhoods.
  • The City of Columbus is currently piloting Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) technology to provide broadband connectivity to households and students without residential fixed broadband subscriptions. The City is working with Columbus City Schools, Franklin County and the county’s digital equity coalition, and is piloting CBRS in a low-income neighborhood. The plan is to utilize ARPA funding to expand to fifteen low-income neighborhoods of the county to reach as many as 100,000 households initially.  While a final monthly cost has not yet been determined, the expected range is $10 to $15 per month.
  • PCs for People, a national nonprofit organization, is planning and deploying high-speed wireless broadband networks that use existing fiber infrastructure for near term implementation in Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri, and other locations nationwide. They build and deploy these networks in partnership with local governments and numerous community organizations like East Cleveland City Schools.These fixed wireless gap networks use LTE technology to allow speeds of 50/10 Mbps at a monthly cost of $15. Rather than using traditional fiber to connect individual homes, PCs for People mounts antennas on buildings, which then broadcast signals to individual homes. The fixed wireless network in East Cleveland, supported in part by funding from Cuyahoga County, is designed to serve more than 1,000 households, and the ARPA funding could expand the network to serve over 2,000 homes.