BLink-Bluffs Free Community Wi-Fi

The City of Council Bluffs has something in common with a big city in the Silicon Valley. Council Bluffs and San Jose, CA both provide free community Wi-Fi. Here in Council Bluffs, many residents, students and area businesses can log on to the network called, “BLink-Bluffs Community Wi-Fi.”

The City of Council Bluffs began offering free community Wi-Fi in 2009. The first Wi-Fi zones connected users in Downtown, the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex and Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park. The City of Council Bluffs and Council Bluffs Community School District worked together to form the Wi-Fi Consortium to provide additional public Wi-Fi in the community.

The first coverage area went online October 2015 and is located between 14th Street and 23rd Street, north of Broadway. Also included is an enhanced free Wi-Fi network in downtown Council Bluffs, around the historic 100 Block of West Broadway and Bayliss Park. Phase two followed in September of 2016, which covers the new Gale Wickersham Athletic Complex at Avenue G and North 18th Street, north of Broadway, between North 29th and North 16th Streets to Avenue I, Avenue L and Nash Boulevard.

When completed over the next five years in ten phases, the BLink coverage area will reach more than 20 square miles, providing Wi-Fi access to more than 40,000 people and reaching the doorsteps of nearly every home and business in Council Bluffs.  Mayor Matt Walsh said, “Our continued commitment to this project, which does not use any tax dollars, demonstrates the city’s vision for community-wide access and growth.”

The idea of providing free Wi-Fi surfaced for the Council Bluffs Community School District when Google donated Chromebooks to the district as part of a one-to-one initiative, one laptop per student. However, some students couldn’t use the laptops at home because they didn’t have internet access. Their success in school was limited. Chief Information Officer for the City, Mark Howard said, “Once completed, we’ll have the largest free outdoor public Wi-Fi in the world.”

Here are some interesting stats about BLink usage:

       • From August 28th to September 4th, more than 11,000 different users connected to BLink, consuming more than 320 gigabytes of data.
       • About 1,000 Wilson Middle School students with district-issued Google Chromebook Computers can use BLink off-campus.
       • Most families of Roosevelt and Franklin elementary school students live in the BLink coverage area.

BLink funding and implementation started as, and continues to be, a community-wide effort. When the first three phases are completed, about $850,000 will be invested in the network.  No tax dollars have been used. The project is lead by the City of Council Bluffs and Council Bluffs Community School District and supported through funding, materials and labor provided by the following partners:

• Iowa West Foundation
• Charles E. Lakin Family Foundation
• Google
• CBTV 17
• Echo Group
• MidAmerican Energy
• Miller Electric
• Ruckus Wireless
• SmartWAVE Technologies
• UNITE Private Networks

In part because of the BLink project, the Technology Association of Iowa nominated Council Bluffs as a finalist for the Iowa Technology of the Year Award in 2016.

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