It goes without saying that internet access is critical right now--that’s how you’re reading this! In America today, kids all over the country need the internet to do their homework, and adults need it to telecommute or even find a job in the first place.

However, for myriad reasons--complex and simple--a lot of people don’t have access to the internet. The ACT Broadband project is all about broadening access to the internet on the community level. Right now, the government approaches citizens to offer them one-on-one access, but that’s not really scalable. ACT can help, forming a plan and collecting data across a team of individuals (typically including city managers as well as average community members) to present to local government and establish a path toward internet access for everyone in that community.

Visit their site here to explore the planning tool

Founders and Product Managers

Founders Karen and Will started the project--product manager Alia joined about a year and a half ago. Alia knows how important the project’s mission is; she feels lucky that she had access to the internet from an early age despite growing up in a rural area. A lot of people in that community didn’t. Alia has learned through ACT that the problem is persistent in urban areas as well; in many cities, swaths of people either have no internet or really, really bad internet.

In Alia’s words, “if you can’t watch a YouTube video, is it really the internet?”The project faces several unique challenges. ACT’s customer is typically someone who already has a full-time job, and as such it’s important to interface with them during business hours, which can be difficult for volunteers. They mostly work in the states of Washington and Oregon, but they hope to scale to other states in the future. Washington is doing more than the average state to confront the issue of internet access equality; there are grants available in $50,000 chunks to assess an infrastructure project and make a strong plan. ACT tends to be a pre-step to that grant; you might use ACT to get the grant. This makes for a sometimes-tedious multi-step process.

Working With Federal Departments - Indirectly

Along with other sponsors, ACT works with the (National Telecommunications and Information Administration (part of the federal Dept of Communications), as well as Washington State (informally). There’s a reason they’ve stayed carefully out of direct government affiliation; if they were, they’d run the risk of the project being cut for budgetary (or any other) reasons. As volunteers, they have far more flexibility, which is important to the team. There are plenty of opportunities in Washington to help communities in need, says Alia.

Want to Volunteer To Help?

At the fully virtual St Hacktrick’s Day Hackathon, a volunteer business writer helped project lead Karen look at the business information that they ask of their local teams. Will and volunteer Nolan worked on https:// deployment. Samatha (their primary developer) will work on a few other bug fixes. It’s a lot of polishing more than true development, which is fine with the ACT team. Alia herself comes from a product management background; she’s interested in the business use cases and customer value for ACT’s finished product.

Volunteers of any skill level can come forward and help the ACT Broadband team! Because they already know their list of features and just need implementation help, they’re in a critical polishing stage; anyone can come in and do user testing. There are plenty of little pieces that an average user can help with. Reach out on DemocracyLab to learn more!