In today’s world of online textbooks, digital newspapers, electronic job applications, and email, access to affordable and reliable Internet service is vital to supporting community engagement and economic well-being. While attention recently has focused on increasing broadband Internet and fiber-to-the-home projects, community wireless networks can also play a crucial role in helping cities deploy high-quality Internet for all of their citizens.

At the Gigabit Cities Live conference on May 14th in Atlanta, Georgia, Next Century Cities Executive Director Deb Socia will moderate a panel featuring leaders from three member cities – Craige Baird, Technology Services Director of Ponca City, Oklahoma, Dan Rothman, Chief Technology Officer of Boston, Massachusetts, and Jory Wolf, Chief Information Officer of Santa Monica, California – that will explore how community wireless can fit into a smart city initiative.

In keeping with Next Century Cities’ mission of ensuring access to fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access to all communities, the leaders of Boston, Ponca City, and Santa Monica have all developed cutting-edge wireless networks to help extend the benefits of Internet connectivity to all. Recent research corroborates that successful community wireless networks can augment larger goals for creating more connected communities. Networks can incorporate a variety of business models and serve wide-ranging purposes, from bridging the digital divide to improving public safety. The three Next Century Cities partner communities on the panel will share their own lessons learned and best practices gained from their community wireless deployment.

The panel supplements a new report authored by Freedman Consulting, LLC which seeks to tell these communities’ stories. As community wireless networks are becoming a critical means of improving outcomes in cities across the country, the report titled “Toward an Understanding of Best Practices in Community Wireless: A Survey of Select Networks,” works to help catalogue this wealth of information and best practices about community wireless networks by highlighting 11 real-world case studies, including the three Next Century Cities partners on the panel. The report offers further advice on topics like the need to achieve consensus among stakeholders before moving forward with development, the benefits of deploying a pilot to ensure an effective model before scaling the network, and the critical function of adopting a sound business model.

The three Next Century Cities communities featured on the panel represent the diversity of goals, business models, and uses seen among the case studies. In an age where broadband Internet and fiber-to-the-home are core initiatives of city governments, they demonstrate how community wireless networks can help improve access to fast, affordable, and reliable Internet. We are thrilled to highlight the pioneering role played by three of our members, host this important discussion, and share this report so other communities can learn about the opportunities to develop and deploy community wireless networks.