After 5 Years, Council Bluffs Continues to Expand Free Wi-Fi

In this file photo, Roosevelt Elementary School fifth-graders Ethan Bose, center, and Abby Franks, right, connect to BLink, the new Bluffs Community Wi-Fi network, during a launch celebration at the Charles E. Lakin Human Services Campus in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Oct. 15, 2015. (Joe Shearer/Council Bluffs Nonpareil via AP)
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

The coronavirus pandemic has accentuated the importance that a reliable internet connect can have, and one community in the metro area has been investing in building out an outdoor wireless internet network for its residents.

The City of Council Bluffs and the Council Bluffs Community School District teamed up in October 2015 to launch a free public Wi-Fi network in conjunction with the Iowa West Foundation, Google and other partners.

The project – dubbed BLink – got started at the Charles E. Lakin Human Service Campus and the school district’s buildings.

After five phases, BLink is now available in many Council Bluffs neighborhoods and outdoor spaces such as Gale Wickersham Athletic Complex, Council Bluffs Rec Complex and Bayliss Park.

“Access to reliable Wi-Fi is critical for academic success, especially this year,” Brenda Mainwaring, Iowa West Foundation president and CEO, said in a news release. “BLink truly sets our community apart as it helps thousands of students in Council Bluffs to learn and allows our community to connect. We are proud to continue our support for this cutting-edge partnership.”

The BLink network helped the community secure its status as an All-America City in 2017. The National Civic League cited the network as part of its reason for highlighting Council Bluffs as a community that’s invested in civic engagement and improvement.

Funding for the network has come from community partners, and no local tax dollars have been used for infrastructure. Project partners also include the Charles E. Lakin Foundation, Echo Group, Mid-American Energy, Miller Electric, Ruckus Wireless, SmartWAVE Technologies, UNITE Private Networks, Bluffs Electric, OPPD and the City of Carter Lake.

“This project is a great example of public-private partnerships,” Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh said in a release. “Without the support of Google, Iowa West Foundation, and Council Bluffs Schools, Bluffs Community Wi-Fi would not be possible.”

The sixth and seventh phases of the network’s expansion are underway now, expected to finish by early next year. The Council Bluffs schools accelerated the network’s expansion to the areas by Rue and Longfellow elementary schools this year after investments from the city, Pottawattamie County Community Foundation, Peter Kiewit Foundation and federal CARES Act coronavirus relief funding.

“BLink Wi-Fi’s network in Council Bluffs is helping local kids access the internet so they can continue their education,” Dan Harbeke, head of public policy and external affairs at Google, said in a release. “Internet accessibility is a priority for Google in our home communities like Council Bluffs, and we’re proud to support BLink’s effort to ensure students and our community’s workforce have the tools they need to be successful.”

Vickie Murillo, superintendent of the Council Bluffs Community School District, said the district’s families are fortunate to a part of a “truly connected community.”

“We value this unique BLink partnership to make internet services available so our students can use their Chromebooks to access their learning materials and connect with their teachers and classmates while at home,” Murillo said in a release. “With each new phase, our community can proudly say that we are removing barriers so that students will continue to thrive in their learning.”

At the completion of the seventh phase, Blink will span 5.5 square miles, providing Wi-Fi to more than 7,600 students and reaching doorsteps across Council Bluffs and Carter Lake.

“BLink will eventually be one of the most extensive free community Wi-Fi networks in the United States,” according to a release from the Iowa West Foundation. “The partners continued commitment to this project demonstrates the vision for community-wide access and growth.

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