Citywide free Internet unlikely soon, but planners hopeful

Two locations in Richmond that currently have signal towers. The city can expand the Internet coverage by setting up repeaters at higher locations in different neighborhoods.

A plan to provide free Internet access to all neighborhoods in Richmond is unlikely to happen soon, but both city planners and Internet service providers are optimistic about making it happen eventually.

“We don’t have a timeframe,” said Jim Rogers, the council member who spearheaded the plan. “It’s something we can get done in a couple of years from now.”

Internet Archive, a non-profit, is the city’s partner on the project. The organization installed a tower on its building on 23rd Street and Florida Avenue early this year to provide free and fast Internet acesss. People within range can get download speeds of 10 megabits per second, higher than what some commercial Internet providers offer, said Brewster Kahle, founder of the organization.

Users can also get a signal from another tower on the Richmond Auditorium, which is about one mile away from the Internet Archive building. However, the service is limited to those who can see the tower from their roofs. And clients must have a directional antenna, which costs $100 to $250, to receive the signal.

After several trial runs, the city decided to expand the service to cover more families. It passed a resolution last month to prepare and submit to the city council a grant-funded strategy to provide free Internet for low-income families throughout the city.

To roll out the plan, the city needs to find the money to buy antennas.

It is unclear how many people lack Internet access in Richmond, but an estimated 69 percent of Californians have broadband access at home, according to a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.

And the “digital divide” is different among ethnic groups. According to the PPIC survey, Latinos are less likely to have internet access than blacks, whites and Asians.

Despite the challenge of finding money, both city planners and service provides are optimistic.

“Even just having the plan unanimously approved in the council meeting is encouraging,” Kahle said. “There are still many steps to go and hopefully we make it through all those steps.”

2 Comments

  1. Michael

    With Internet Service by large corporations like Comcast and At&t charging $50 per month and up, it is really important for Richmond residents to have access to free internet service.
    The inability of City Hall to provide antennas for this is a small cost compared to the total cost to all residents for internet service.
    Do the math: If 39,000 residents are paying $35 a month for Comcast, $1.36 Million Dollars going right out of the city to Comcast or AT&T. PER MONTH.
    Think of all the seats in the Richmond Public Library filled every day full time with adults and kids using the Internet. It’s free internet. It’s education. It’s jobs.
    We need this far more than we need City Council Members petty disagreements and infighting.

  2. Col

    What could be a better than providing Internet access for kids, seniors, the working poor (and most everyone else) for enhanced education, training, entertainment, connection, etc. Internet access for all! A most noble endeavor, indeed. Git ‘er done!

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