Cassiano Homes has 12 solar light poles which would be used to power the Wi-Fi mesh network.
Cassiano Homes has 12 solar light poles that will be used to power the Wi-Fi mesh network. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio Housing Authority made the final cut Thursday in a national contest to address the digital divide.

The Housing Authority’s proposed project, for which it has developed a prototype, calls for a Wi-Fi network to be powered by solar light poles installed at one of the organization’s low-income housing complexes.

The San Antonio organization was among 20 winners in the first stage of Mozilla and the National Science Foundation’s Wireless Innovation Challenges, during which applicants submitted designs for their projects, and is one of 14 finalists for a second-stage award that will range from $50,000 for fourth place to $400,000 for first place in each category. There are six others in the Housing Authority’s category.

“Every day, the internet becomes more vital to everyday life – it’s how we find jobs, learn, manage our finances, and communicate with family,” said Mark Surman, Mozilla’s executive director, in a blog post. “This means the 34 million Americans without reliable internet access are at a severe economic, educational, and social disadvantage. And it’s something we need to fix.”

Housing Authority officials on Aug. 14 will present the solar mesh Wi-Fi project to a panel of judges in Mountain View, California.

The Wi-Fi network would be free to the entire Cassiano Homes Apartments community on the city’s West Side. Its signal strength would be equally distributed throughout the 750 households thanks to a technology known as mesh Wi-Fi, which uses interconnected devices to send and receive radio signals.

In a mesh Wi-Fi network, multiple devices communicate with one another and don’t rely on a single internet source, such as a router.

The Cassiano apartment complex has 12 solar light poles which would be used to power the Wi-Fi mesh network.

In 2013, the Housing Authority launched an effort to build community rooms at each of its more than 70 public housing properties. The rooms include desktop computers for community-wide use and Wi-Fi access.

According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey, San Antonians had the 15th-worst internet connection – 38.2 percent of households lacked fixed internet access – among cities with a population of 100,000 or greater. In June, a national study published similar findings.

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.