Grooming Tech Talent in One of the Most Disconnected Neighborhoods in NYC

By Francella Ochillo, Executive Director

An aerial view of the Bronx, New York. 

For residents of the Bronx, a borough of New York City, struggling with access to reliable and affordable broadband is commonplace. Affectionately known for being home to Yankee Stadium and the birthplace of hip hop music, the Bronx also has the lowest broadband adoption rates of any other borough. Poverty keeps too many of its residents locked out of digital opportunities. 

In neighborhoods like Highbridge, for instance, where over 60% of residents identify as Hispanic and the poverty rate is almost double the citywide average, gaps in broadband access reflect well-documented nationwide disparities. Approximately 38% of households do not have access to broadband at home, limiting their ability to apply for jobs, complete remote learning mandates, benefit from community resources, or access public health information. 

The digital divide is alive and well in the Bronx, but there is a community center that is changing connectivity options for residents. And its technology training program is providing students with an opportunity to learn how to build the technology that allows their neighbors to get online. 

The Point is a non-profit organization dedicated to youth development as well as the cultural and economic revitalization of the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx. Known for its arts and music programming, digital steward training is core to its portfolio. 

In an effort to build a more resilient community, the Point collaborated with New America to create the Hunts Point Free WiFi Network which provides free communication pathways, resistant to power and internet outages. The wireless mesh network relies on a series of small devices (“nodes”) placed on top of buildings or in windows to send and receive data and WiFi signals to one another without an internet connection.

Due to elevation and proximity of the waterfront, various areas of Hunts Point have greater potential for flooding, putting business and residents at risk. The network serves as a critical resource for neighbors, businesses, and community leaders who need to communicate vital information during an emergency.

There are very few places where students in low-income neighborhoods can get hands-on training to build their own mesh networks. There are even fewer that provide bilingual technology training for digital stewards like the Point continues to provide for residents. 

This Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate the leadership and expertise of the young leaders who are matriculating through this program in addition to the visionaries who have kept its training alive during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are creating local connectivity solutions and providing much-needed technical expertise for neighborhoods that have been overlooked or left behind. 

For more information on ways to support this organization, please contact Yamil Lora, the Community Coordinator at the Point and Free Hunts Point Community Wifi Project.

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