Wi-Fi for Local Communities

The initiative aims at overcoming poor-quality broadband in specific city neighbourhoods in the Reggio Emilia area by allowing access to the Metropolitan Area Network (the broadband network owned by the public administrations of Emilia-Romagna). The system was put in place through the instalment and operation of broadband wireless infrastructures by Neighbourhood Social Centres acting as broadband providers for citizens and businesses of their respective areas.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The project concept was formulated thanks to the co-governance process “neighbourhood as commons" launched by the Municipality of Reggio Emilia in 2015 with the aim of innovating city governance and stimulating citizens’ active role in city management and policy formulation, by engaging citizens and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) through the so-called “Laboratori di Quartiere” (Neighbourhood Labs). The Wi-Fi for local communities project was first conceived and implemented as a pilot in the Coviolo area, a neighbourhood with 2.468 inhabitants, located in a peri-urban area, in which the local community only had access to low speed ADSL Internet (2 to 5 mbps) available only in best-effort mode, i.e. without any minimum bandwidth guaranteed.

The objective and scheme of implementation of the pilot “Coviolo Wireless” were developed jointly by the Municipality and by the citizens of the Coviolo area: to enable access to the public broadband Metropolitan Area Network owned by the Regional Government and by the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, via the installation and operation of a Wi-Fi network by the Coviolo Neighbourhood Social Centre (NSC). The project adopted a Public-Public-Private model of financing. Specifically, the radio wireless infrastructure was co-financed by the Municipality of Reggio Emilia with a total of EUR 10 000. The implementation was entrusted to LEPIDA SpA, the in house agency of the Emilia-Romagna Region, entrusted with the task of installing and managing the public broadband network in the region, and to the NSC of Coviolo: the members of the NSC of Coviolo funded the cost of the installation of the local base station and the 4 sector antennas (EUR 14 582 in total). The management of this part of the network is supported by the local community via the membership to the NSC of Coviolo. The registration as an NSC member is open to all citizens with EUR 15 for the membership and EUR 10 for monthly internet fee including the cost of maintenance of the property and damage insurance (about 50% less than the average market price).

The pilot was implemented from January 2016 to December 2016. After the implementation, users could access the internet with symmetric 30mbps (30mbps download + 30mbps upload), sharing 100mbps internet access that can be expanded to 1000 mbps without any structural intervention. The technical characteristics and architecture model of the project were designed in such a way as to guarantee that it could be scaled-up and flexibly replicated in other peri-urban areas affected by low quality access to broadband, providing them with reliable and ultra-wide bandwidth access through: 1) the extension of the LEPIDA public connectivity service; and 2) the re-use of fibre optic owned by the Municipality to activate a high speed radio bridge.

The pilot was awarded the European Broadband in 2017, Category 4 - Socio-economic impact and affordability by the European Commission. In the meanwhile, similar needs emerged from the second edition of “Laboratori di Quartiere” (Neighbourhood Labs) carried out in two other peri-urban areas in the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, namely Fogliano and Massenzatico, with the active involvement of citizens and of the two NSCs located there.
At the end of 2018, the City Council of Reggio Emilia passed a decree whereby a general agreement model between the Municipality, LEPIDA SpA and the NSCs of Coviolo, Fogliano and Massenzatico for the instalment and operation of the wireless broadband connection in Fogliano and Massenzatico and for updating the existing one in Coviolo. In March 2019, the City Council of Reggio Emilia issued Guidelines for the WI-FI for Local Communities project, in which roles and obligations of the Municipality, LEPIDA SpA and any NSC wishing to adhere to the project are defined.

Such Guidelines represent an outstanding innovation from different points of view:
1) they are based on the extensive experience of the first pilots Wi-Fi for Local Communities in Coviolo, Fogliano and Massenzatico, but they also mark the transformation of an experimental policy tool into an ordinary and general policy tool for the Munipality of Reggio Emilia; 2) their application guarantees that the same technical and service standards are implemented homogeneously in the different neighbourhoods by the different Social Centres willing to adhere to a Local Community WI-FI project, thereby preventing any further possible “divide” between citizens enjoying the same rights; 3) they represent an innovative way for local policy making and for the promotion of active citizenship, 4) they offer a technically and financially viable solution to reduce the digital divide affecting many peripheral urban areas; and 5) they maximise value for money and social impact of public investments in broadband infrastructures.

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