Jennifer Hawkins, executive director of ONE Neighborhood Builders, spoke to Maren Machles with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance about ONE|NB Connects, the free community WiFi network that ONE|NB has developed in Olneyville.  Community Networks is a project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Thursday, April 15, 2021 | Posted by Maren Machles

While the day after Turkey Day is one of carb hangovers and movie marathons for many Americans across the country, on that cold day in November 2020, for the Providence, Rhode Island-based nonprofit One Neighborhood Builders (ONB), it was a day of celebration. A seven-car parade rounded the streets of the Olneyville neighborhood spreading word of the launch of ONB’s network with a PA system announcing, “Free Wi-Fi!” to the community.

Now, five months later, ONB has shown proof of concept and is ready to bring the network into its next phase of life. The next few months will be packed for ONB as it gears up to strengthen Phase I of the network, plans the expansion of a Phase II, and puts boots on the ground to energize the information campaign around the network. The nonprofit has been answering a flood of information requests from folks throughout the region considering bringing a similar mesh network to their own communities, and in response, it will also be putting together a case study for communities who might be interested in replicating its success.

The Olneyville neighborhood in west-central Providence, Rhode Island has been a focus for the nonprofit since 1988. When the pandemic hit, all of the initiatives ONB was trying to address in Olneyville only became more apparent: from the surges in severe Covid-19 cases to the lack of supermarket options to the digital divide. One way ONB decided it could alleviate some of the impact of the pandemic was to set up a free mesh Wi-Fi network.

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