University brings Wi-Fi access to Liberty Square

Written by: Krystal Pugh/Asst. News Director

FIU alumna Kelsey Lewis said she was never able to use the internet for school work when she lived in Liberty Square, an underprivileged neighborhood in Liberty City.

“My aunt and I lived in Liberty Square for a long time, and it was hard,” said Lewis.

“I just remember never being able to leave school without my homework being done because the resources were simply not available to me.”

The University has partnered with Miami-Dade County to help turn the public housing into a high-performing digital community.

Webpass, an internet service provider, built a point-to-point scaled internet, which works like a microwave. The internet receiver channels wave signals to users on a point-to-point basis, similar to how microwaves channel  heat energy to food particles.

However, the connection is not supported through infrastructure. The placement of a receiver is all that is required for access to be granted.

Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez and Commissioner Audrey Edmonson announced the establishment of free Wi-Fi access for Liberty Square residents on Sept. 9.

“I am happy to hear the County is doing something to help the community,” Lewis said.

Moses Shumow, a School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor and Maria Lovett, College of Education leadership and professional studies professor, introduced the community initiative. They provided information technology and educational training for the project.

According to Shumow, it took nearly ten years of conversation to provide internet access to the neighborhood. She also said Liberty Square is the largest public housing project in Miami-Dade County and the most historic. The County is investing more than a million dollars renovating the site.

The community is owned by the federal government, and it is ran by the County. Most of the community has been subsidized.

Nearly 100 local students, which is approximately 8 percent of the community, lived without access to Wi-Fi, according to Shumow. Google maps shows two public libraries within 10 miles of the community.

For high school students, it a requirement to take an online course for graduation. The lack of Wi-Fi has been an issue.

About 30 percent of South Florida does not have access to internet and 21 percent does not own a computer, according to a 2010 Scarborough Research survey.

Miami-Dade County has less Wi-Fi access than Broward County, with 35.5 percent of Dade residents. These residents report they have no regular internet access, according to Internet World Stats. Of more than 700 homes in Liberty Square, only five families had broadband internet access in 2009.

Shumrow said there were very little funds available for this project. Miami-Dade County paid for the installation of the services to Webpass.

Service learning programs paid for Wi-Fi routers. However, the County provides the majority of the funding.

“This is still early on in the project. In the future, I would like to do some fundraisers,” said Shumow.

He said the biggest challenge in the project was that many internet providers were not willing to take a financial risk to build infrastructure in the area. Webpass was the only provider to collaborate since it does not need to build on an area’s infrastructure.

“To log in is like when you go to Starbucks — you agree to the terms and log in,” he said.

Shumow is designing a course for students to get involved in the new project. It would be a capstone course for digital media seniors. The students would go to Liberty Square and teach people about computer usage.

Students would also teach the elderly how to use computers and teach young people how to effectively manage their time to be more productive online.

“It’s not just about providing a service, it’s about how can the internet help better the community and even create jobs,” Shumow said.

krystal.pugh@fiusm.com

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