Innovations for Community-Held Infrastructure
Lead PI:
Kurtis Heimerl

Internet access has become a critical component of urban infrastructure, providing innumerable services including employment, banking, civic engagement, education, and others. In spite of this reality, billions of people, even in highly connected urban environments (5% of people in our home city of Seattle, for instance), remain offline. To meet these needs, researchers and practitioners have begun to explore community networks in order to explore novel business models and connectivity paradigms. Community networks are Internet access networks, owned, operated, and managed by constituents rather than by traditional Internet Service Providers. Leveraging local capacity and interest, these networks hold the promise of developing new access models and technologies that allow for the sustainable connection of the 'long-tail' of the digital divide and have seen success in diverse areas such as New York City, Detroit, Utiagvik, and many others.

This proposal will develop a series of community network innovations using participatory methods and co-development processes with a uniquely interdisciplinary team of research and practice oriented community organizers, technical researchers, and social scientists. Researchers will work with technology practitioners and community stakeholders to identify current technology conditions and community needs and develop novel socio-technical systems that directly support local communities. These agendas will be supported by STEM education programming within partner communities, which will provide a context for local ideation, creation, and support of technology design, implementation, and deployment.

This project's preliminary discussions with partners have grounded this proposal in a set of initial directions that will be adjusted based on community workshop outputs. These include the following community-led innovations: (1) novel network services, such as localized content delivery networks, community (non-law enforcement-led) crisis management, and digital literacy training; (2) sensing systems, such as traffic collision detectors (coupled with the above crisis management), and air and soil monitoring, and (3) related security aspects such as network security and community-based information and data privacy.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Kurtis Heimerl
Kurtis Heimerl is an associate professor of Computer Science at the University of Washington working on Information and Communication Technology and International Development (ICTD), specifically universal Internet access. Before that, he received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Kurtis cofounded Endaga, which joined Facebook in 2015. He was a recipient of the 2014 MIT “35 under 35” award, the 2018 UW early career Diamond Award, and has won paper awards at CHI, NSDI, COMPASS, ASSETS, PETS, and DySPAN.
Performance Period: 10/01/2021 - 09/30/2024
Institution: University of Washington
Award Number: 2125101