Thousands of students and residents access the Internet for free daily; more expansion coming soon
(COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA) –
In October of 2015, the City of Council Bluffs and Council Bluffs Schools, with support from key partners such as Iowa West Foundation and Google, launched Phase 1 of a free public Wi-Fi initiative at the Charles E. Lakin Human Services Campus. BLink’s mission: to provide Internet access wherever technically and financially feasible that would not only allow students to connect to their classrooms at home, but also for residents to boost their connectivity to resources, opportunities and each other. Five years and five phases later, BLink is now available in a multitude of Council Bluffs neighborhoods, all of the Council Bluffs Schools’ buildings, and many outdoor spaces such as Gale Wickersham Athletic Complex, the Council Bluffs Rec Complex and Bayliss Park. More expansion is coming soon.
Funding for BLink continues to be a community-wide effort. To date, no tax dollars have been used to offer this amenity to the community. BLink Partners include Google, Iowa West Foundation, Charles E. Lakin Foundation, Echo Group, Mid-American Energy, Miller Electric, Ruckus Wireless, SmartWAVE Technologies, UNITE Private Networks, Bluffs Electric, City of Carter Lake and OPPD.
“This project is a great example of public-private partnerships,” said Mayor Matt Walsh. “Without the support of Google, Iowa West Foundation, and Council Bluffs Schools, Bluffs Community Wi-Fi would not be possible.”
“Access to reliable Wi-Fi is critical for academic success, especially this year,” said Brenda Mainwaring, Iowa West Foundation President and CEO. “BLink truly sets our community apart as it helps thousands of students in Council Bluffs to learn, and allows our community to connect. We are proud to continue our support for this cutting-edge partnership.”
Launch & Expansion
The launch of Phase I, from 14th Street – 23rd Street north of Broadway encompassed the Lakin Campus and Wilson Middle School. Since that time, the coverage has expanded to add five more phases in five years westward to 35th St. and as far south as 9th Avenue. Phases six and seven are underway with expected completion dates of later 2020 and early 2021, respectively.
“The BLink project has grown exponentially in a short time. This is thanks to unusual cooperation between the school district, the cities of Council Bluffs and Carter Lake, the Iowa West Foundation and Google,” said Dave Fringer, Wi-Fi Consortium Governance Committee Member. “This project is a great example of how private-public partnerships can change communities for the better.”
“BLink Wi-Fi’s network in Council Bluffs is helping local kids access the internet so they can continue their education,” said Dan Harbeke, Head of Public Policy and External Affairs at Google. “Internet accessibility is a priority for Google in our home communities like Council Bluffs, and we’re proud to support BLink’s effort to ensure students and our community’s workforce have the tools they need to be successful.”
Back in March, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the challenges for students and families without internet access. Thanks to grant funding from the Southwest Iowa COVID-19 Response Fund – an initiative of the Iowa West Foundation and the Pottawattamie County Community Foundation- along with contributions from Peter Kiewit Foundation and the City of Council Bluffs totaling $400,000, CBCSD was able leverage CARES Act funding to accelerate planned connectivity expansions in the Rue and Longfellow Elementary School neighborhoods. Funding from Google and the Iowa West Foundation also expanded BLink to the students and families who live in Carter Lake. BLink Wi-Fi coverage thus expanded 17 percent, providing access for nearly 1,500 more students.
“Our students and families are fortunate to be part of a truly connected community. We value this unique BLink partnership to make Internet services available so our students can use their Chromebooks to access their learning materials and connect with their teachers and classmates while at home,” said Dr. Vickie Murillo, Superintendent of the Council Bluffs Community School District. “With each new phase, our community can proudly say that we are removing barriers so that students will continue to thrive in their learning.”
“BLink is a tremendous asset for our school district,” said John Stile, Chief Technology Officer, Council Bluffs Community School District. “We are very fortunate to have a tremendous relationship with the City of Council Bluffs and more recently the City of Carter Lake in addition to Google and the Iowa West Foundation, who continue to assist in support in so many different ways. These partnerships do not exist in other cities and they are what makes BLink so very special.”
At the completion of Phase 7, the BLink coverage area will reach more than 5.5 square miles, providing Wi-Fi access to more than 7,600 students in Council Bluffs Schools and reaching the doorsteps of many homes in Council Bluffs. BLink will eventually be one of the most extensive free community Wi-Fi networks in the United States. The partners continued commitment to this project demonstrates the vision for community-wide access and growth.
Director of Communications