Merit’s ‘Michigan Moonshot’ partners with Toyota, Cisco to expand wi-fi access

ANN ARBOR—Residents of Detroit, Inkster, Flint and Washtenaw County will soon benefit from expanded free wi-fi access at more than 50 community locations across southeast Michigan, part of the Michigan Moonshot broadband access initiative of Michigan’s oldest internet service provider, Merit Network Inc.

The new access is supported by contributions from the Toyota USA Foundation and Cisco Systems Inc., and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and Merit Network provided in-kind contributions for the project.

Merit officials say census data shows that the Detroit Public Schools has the highest number of households in the state without internet access at 82,894. The Flint School District has the second highest number, with 14,221 households without internet access. In addition, 57 percent of K-12 students in Washtenaw County do not have high speed wi-fi access at home.

“For thousands of students across the state of Michigan, the pandemic has introduced new challenges or highlighted existing ones,” said Charlotte Bewersdorff, Merit’s vice president for community engagement. “We expect this to help both rural and urban communities access the internet for basic informational needs tied to living, learning and working.”

The grants address the digital divide by providing community organizations with the technological ability to extend their existing internet connectivity through wi-fi networks which are accessible outside the buildings. The Detroit Public Library will extend its wi-fi network beyond the walls of nine select sites during business hours. The Washtenaw Intermediate School District is coordinating 30 different access points at area schools and community partners across the county.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout our nation, Toyota is proud to partner with Michigan Moonshot and Cisco to expand free wi-fi to Southeast Michigan area schools, libraries and community gathering locations to provide an immediate solution to this urgent issue of access,” said Chris Reynolds, chief administrative officer, Toyota Motor North America.

Internet access at community sites is powered and secured by Cisco’s wi-fi and cloud security technology. The overall effort is supported through Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program, which has over 900 active or completed mass-scale digitization projects in 37 countries around the world.

“It is our responsibility as business leaders to step up and mobilize the tools and innovations at our disposal to help curtail the growing disparities in our communities caused by the digital divide,” said Nick Michaelides, Cisco’s senior vice president for the public sector in the United States.

Moving into the future, the Michigan Moonshot will continue to identify and lessen the impacts of inequitable access to broadband internet with the help from Merit’s communities. Community, philanthropic, or private-sector organizations interested in supporting local Community Access Network sites should contact moonshot@merit.edu.

To view an interactive map of all locations and hours of operation, visit MichiganMoonshot.org/CommunityWiFi

The Michigan Moonshot aims to bridge the digital divide in Michigan. Stakeholders include Merit Network, the Quello Center at Michigan State University and M-Lab, the largest open internet measurement platform in the world.

Merit Network was founded in 1966 to link the mainframe computers at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University, a groundbreaking achievement for its time. The organization has evolved into a high-speed data network serving Michigan’s universities, colleges, K-12 schools, libraries, state government, health care, and other nonprofit organizations. More at www.merit.edu.

The Washtenaw Intermediate School District is the educational service agency for Washtenaw County, Michigan, serving nine public school districts and the public school academies in the greater Ann Arbor region. WISD provides special education leadership and coordination, early childhood services, technology support, business and human resources assistance, cradle-to-career community partnerships, and teacher and staff professional development. More at  www.washtenawisd.org.

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