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Rising to the Challenge: New America

 |  NYCEDC

new america

New America has a vision: to promote vibrant and resilient communities through equitable access to broadband.

In 2012, just months before Sandy, New America - a Washington DC-based public policy think tank and civic enterprise - worked closely with a local community group, Red Hook Initiative, to pilot a mesh network in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Accompanying this was a digital skills training program for local residents called “Digital Stewards.”

The pilot was intended to provide essential services in a community with lower broadband adoption rates than the City average. Little did they know, just a few months later, Sandy would put the resiliency benefits of the network to the ultimate test.

With traditional networks down, the mesh network served as the primary communication platform for over 300 public housing residents, providing access to critical information and facilitating shared resources among the community.

Today, the pilot serves as an instructive case study for resilient mesh networks. Building upon the success in Red Hook, RISE : NYC is funding New America to expand their activities and support other community leaders committed to installing mesh networks in six Sandy-impacted business communities throughout the City.

In addition to network access, RISE : NYC funding will be used to develop Digital Stewards training programs for implementation by coalitions of community partners in Sandy-impacted neighborhoods. Digital Stewardship is a training approach that enriches the skills and opportunities for locals, especially low- or middle-income residents. Stewards are not only trained to install and maintain the networks, but also to provide platforms and develop content that serve small business needs and community development priorities, including emergency management notification systems and protocols.

Resilient Mesh Networks for RISE : NYC is the flagship project of New America’s new Resilient Communities Program, based in New York City, which aims to help communities and local leaders build upon existing assets and community relationships to protect and improve infrastructure, systems, and quality of life through resiliency initiatives.

As one of 11 projects selected through NYCEDC’s RISE : NYC program, New America will share up to $30 million with the other project teams to set up WiFi coverage in Sandy-impacted communities across the city. We spoke to the Resilient Communities Program team about their mesh technology and community-centric approach.

Basic Facts About New America

Team: New America's team is led by Pamela Puchalski, Director of Resilient Communities, and Greta Byrum, Senior Analyst

Name of Winning RISE : NYC Technology: Resilient Mesh Wireless Technology 

About: Wireless networks that feature mesh firmware to re-route Internet traffic around outages and maintain connectivity for users. These resilient networks help small businesses and their surrounding communities rebuild, prepare, and respond to both emergencies and everyday challenges, even if networks are damaged or connections to the Internet are disabled. 

Technology Category: Telecom Networks, helping small businesses stay connected and operational, even when traditional communication networks are down.

An Interview with New America

When and how did you get the idea for Resilient Mesh Networks?

We have been working with local groups for half a decade, exploring the many benefits of locally-built and maintained communications infrastructure for workforce development, hands-on learning, community organizing, local news and information, and resilience.

What went into developing your technology? How long did it take?

Our team has spent many years developing and exploring wireless network technologies and platforms, and just as much time developing measures that build resilience both at the community level and for the city overall.

We have refined our approach to skill-sharing and training as well as our selection of networking tools and platforms over the last half-decade, piloting Digital Stewards training with community partners in Detroit before supporting the Red Hook Initiative as they adapted and applied the curriculum in Brooklyn.

What resiliency benefit does your technology provide? 

The resiliency benefit is two-pronged.

With mesh Internet, there is no single point of failure – rather a dynamic web of nodes can reroute around defective nodes to transmit data. Our technology also puts the tools and know-how to establish and oversee communications networks into the hands of local communities, building from their local knowledge and helping them become self-sufficient and resilient everyday as well as during disasters and emergencies.

new america digital stewards

What type of small businesses/buildings will benefit most from your technology?

Most small businesses rely on connectivity to conduct business, and our technology safeguards their connectivity. In addition, businesses that rely on walk-ins benefit from wireless hotspots that draw foot traffic and bring both residents and visitors together.

How do programs like RISE : NYC support innovation and climate adaptive technologies like yours? 

RISE : NYC provides communities with opportunities to adapt new technologies to their local needs, helping them reduce dependencies and prepare for future events while also building local capacity and expanding the skill-sets and know-how of residents. This form of innovation is distributed, local, and scalable.

Accordingly, RISE : NYC is the catalyst for expanding New America’s focus on solutions and policy imperatives for a more prosperous society. Our mission, operationalized as the Resilient Communities Program, seeks to protect community assets, infrastructure, systems, and people on a larger scale. This mission is anchored in our work through RISE : NYC.  

Learn more about New America's Resilient Communities Program here.


About the Rising to the Challenge series: Eleven innovative resiliency technologies are helping to build a stronger, more resilient New York. What are they and who are the companies behind them?

This blog series shares the stories of each of the winning RISE : NYC technologies and the impact they will have on businesses and communities in New York City. Read all profiles here

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