Cassiano Homes is a 65-year-old West San Antonio low-income housing complex.
SAHA's Cassiano Homes complex, built in 1953, serves low-income residents on the near West Side. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A low-income community on the city’s West Side is set to receive free Wi-Fi after the San Antonio Housing Authority took home third place Tuesday in a national grant challenge.

The Housing Authority received $100,000 in grant funding from open-source software purveyor Mozilla (best known for its Firefox browser) and the National Science Foundation to develop a free, solar-powered Wi-Fi network for residents at its Cassiano Homes Apartments in West San Antonio.

The Housing Authority won third place in the smart community networks category of the national Wireless Innovation Challenges, or WINS, according to Mozilla’s blog. The announcement concludes a months-long competition in which groups from across the country pitched their ideas for bridging the digital divide.

The Mozilla Foundation in February awarded the Housing Authority a $10,000 honorable mention grant to test its proposed solar-powered wireless mesh network, which the organization has dubbed SMARTI. The network would provide equal distribution of internet access throughout the 499-unit community.

In July, the Housing Authority was one of 14 groups chosen from the first stage of the contest after demonstrating a working prototype. Solar light poles have been installed at the Cassiano Homes Apartments and will help power the Wi-Fi network.

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

The WINS Challenge doled out a total of $1.6 million to final round winners. The $400,000 grand prizes went to the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee, which will develop an 80-foot broadband internet tower to serve residents in rural Appalachia, and Rhizomatica in Philadelphia, an organization working on a communications network that uses digital cellular technology and short-wave radio for deployment during natural disasters.

“We launched NSF-WINS in early 2017 with the goal of bringing internet connectivity to rural areas, disaster-struck regions, and other offline or under-connected places,” Mark Surman, Mozilla executive director, said in a blog post Tuesday. “Currently, some 34 million Americans lack high-quality internet access. That means 34 million Americans are at a severe economic, educational, and social disadvantage.”

San Antonio is one of the country’s worst-connected cities, with more than one-third of households lacking internet access, according to a recent study that leaned on 2016 U.S. Census data.

The Housing Authority provides assistance that helps put a roof over 65,000 heads in the city.

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