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Free Wi-Fi For All

February 16, 2021 by

I’ve been involved just about fulltime in our IT department since I graduated from college with a degree in Computer Engineering almost thirty years ago. I’ve terminated more copper and fiber optic cable than I can count, have spent more days than I can remember up towers installing and tweaking antennas and microwave dishes; and crawled around in attics, basements, and manholes longer than I would wish for anyone. A little while ago I decided to see what organizations out there could put some of this experience to use, benefiting others in the wider community. I came across Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC) and it looked like something I could join.

guys workingPhoto by Alan Maendel

ITDRC is based out of Fort Worth, Texas and was formed in 2008 to provide technical support to communities trying to recover after disasters, looking to benefit the whole community with their work. There are a lot of organizations that focus on the immediate needs of people affected by disasters, but communications and connectivity are often overlooked. So I quickly signed up and took the required FEMA courses and “in house” online training over the next couple of weeks. ITDRC survives on private and industry grants, and most of their equipment and services are donated by socially responsible corporations. But one of the most important components of the organization is the growing army of volunteers that make it what it is. That is what I wanted to be a part of, especially if it could inspire the next wave of young and upcoming IT workers.

Last week my son and I joined an ITDRC road crew on Staten Island, New York. They were following up requests for Wi-Fi at schools and community centers that had come in to the projectConnect portal at the ITDRC website. As their site describes, projectConnect “is a nationwide initiative” to install free Wi-Fi hotspots connecting “students and families to the internet, especially those living in rural and underserved communities.” The digital divide is real. If properly addressed, technology like Wi-Fi can help overcome poverty and social inequality.

van on streetPhoto by Alan Maendel

The two technicians we joined both have careers in the entertainment industry. Since that is essentially dead right now due to the pandemic, they had both decided that instead of sitting around at home they wanted to stay active. They were volunteering pretty much all their time for this and had been traveling around the five boroughs following up these leads. This was cool! We pitched in as we could for the day. Although some sites were all set and just needed the extra assurance of being told so, at others we did lift some ceiling panels, pull some wire, crimp some connectors, and chat with the staff. They – and we – were very glad for what we were doing.


Alan Maendel lives with his wife, Paula, and their children at Woodcrest, a Bruderhof in Rifton, New York.

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