While Centri Tech does not view tech infrastructure as an end unto itself, we understand that there is much work to be done in leveling the technological playing field for all Americans. And a level playing field means equal and universal access, not alternate or merely available access. And universal access means reliable, affordable home-based connectivity. There is simply no other way to provide a connection that is private, dignified, and always-available.
That is why one of Centri Tech’s first endeavors was to formulate a business strategy aimed at filling critical tech infrastructure gaps in the world of low-income housing. Our history—dating back to the early 2000’s—is steeped in home-based digital access solutions, working in partnership with low-income and public housing developers across the country to bring networked internet solutions for free or minimal cost to residents of more than 40,000 units of housing.
Early in 2021, Centri identified a partner to help execute on the technical work of installing and managing broadband networks in affordable housing developments. Commercial Connectivity Services, based in the Los Angeles area, brings years of experience wiring commercial and residential properties affordably so that landlords can offer this crucial amenity to their residents and commercial tenants.
Jeff Skolnick, co-founder of CCS, talked about the origins of the company. “A number of years ago, I was approached by a real-estate investor I knew who owned a 50-unit apartment complex. The investor wanted to offer high-speed internet connectivity to the residents because there were no good and affordable consumer options at that site. It was then that we created CCS and we built our first building-wide internet network.”
“Since then, we’ve worked at many other properties facing the same dilemma. Individual consumer broadband can cost upwards of $100/month which puts it out of reach for many lower-income residents. By creating a network that can share a single, fast connection, the cost of internet access per unit comes way down.”
With networked internet connectivity, owners and managers of affordable housing can offer hassle-free broadband to their residents and guarantee universal access at their property. CCS’s other co-founder, Jose Valenzuela understands what this connectivity means for landlords as well. “Even affordable housing owners care about tenant turnover, and offering broadband as an amenity helps keep residents happy. Having broadband throughout the building brings other advantages, as well, like software-based property management, or the ability to manage a solar energy system.”
Jeff sees working with Centri Tech as a perfect match. “When we first met the folks at Centri Tech, we knew we saw eye to eye on the potential that our work could bring to a mission-first company like they are. We love that they are thinking big and put the residents first.”
A recognition of our country’s growing “digital divide” takes early hold among policy advocates, spurring public and private efforts to connect the unconnected via public access points, such as libraries and newly-formed “community technology centers.”
First home Broadband installations begin, with about 2.5% of American households connected via an “always-on” Internet connection, surpassing the speed of dial-up connections which maxxed out at 56Kbps.
A new nonprofit organization, One Economy Corporation, forms to help bring internet connectivity, content, and training to low-Income Americans as a means to combat poverty. One Economy’s approach has a particular focus on home-based access for all.
One Economy creates the Beehive, a new online destination for education and tools to help low-income Americans meet the challenges and opportunities related to their finances, health, education, employment, and more.
One Economy launches the Digital Connectors program in Washington, D.C. to hire and train high-school aged youth in technology skills and then deploy them to serve as technology ambassadors in their neighborhoods. This pilot program would ultimately be replicated as a national model in communities from DC to San Francisco, resulting in more than one million hours of service to low-income neighborhoods and 10,000 young people trained.
One Economy launches the Public Internet Channel, a new website devoted to bringing public purpose programming to audiences often left out of the media landscape. The effort was co-chaired by Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.
President Obama signs into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a stimulus package that includes $7.2 billion devoted to promoting broadband infrastructure and adoption.
One Economy receives the largest broadband adoption grant as part of the ARRA from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). This $28.5 million grant, backed by $25 million in private match, enables One Economy to expand its reach and impact into communities across the nation through its relationships with over 900 community-based organizations (CBOs), its connection of 27,000 units of affordable housing to broadband, and digital skills training to more than 260,000 Americans.
ARRA also commissions the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create a National Broadband Plan, which was unveiled in March. The plan calls for 100 million homes to have 100/50 Mbps internet connections by the year 2020, 1 gig connections to community anchor institutions, and affordable access to in-home broadband connectivity and training for all Americans.
After 13 years of impactful work, One Economy Corporation’s highlights include: pioneering shared in-home broadband access and connecting more than 40,000 low-income households; training 10,000 Digital Connectors as tech ambassadors for nearly 1 million neighborhood residents; creating life-enhancing content and applications used by 20 million people, and creating the Bring IT Home policy campaign, which encouraged in-home broadband in publicly-financed housing in 40 states.
Mobile devices become the most common means of accessing the Internet, partly as a result of telecommunications companies' now-ubiquitous implementation of “4G” or fourth generation mobile networks, capable of transmitting data at speeds of 100Mbps.
Nearly 25 million Americans remain disconnected from broadband at home. For low-income and rural communities the numbers are worst of all–with nearly half of all households making less than $35,000/year still disconnected.
In December, a small group of entrepreneurs, including former founders of One Economy Corporation, found a new company called Centri Tech, to address tech infrastructure and adoption as a means to improve and enhance the lives of Americans, particularly the un- and under-connected.
Early in the new year, the sudden outbreak of a deadly new virus is declared a global emergency. In the U.S., and around the world, stay-at-home orders go into effect and people are left to manage their work, education, and healthcare online. Our collective lack of preparedness for this technological challenge is laid bare.
In November, Centri Tech officially launches, along with its nonprofit, the Centri Tech Foundation. Together, they lay the groundwork to execute on our new national imperative, Digital Advancement.
Local governments, places of business, and school districts all scramble to find fast and effective solutions to our now-obvious technical shortcomings. Some school systems distribute free devices to students that need them to bring classes 100% online. Internet connectivity remains a harder problem to solve, leaving many students to park outside of free public wifi hotspots to download and upload their assignments.
How did we get here?
Using Tech to Promote Tech
While many housing developers are realizing the importance of ensuring universal access, not all fully understand what that entails, or how to make it happen. So last fall, we launched a free tool, called Centri Connect (www.centri-connect.com), to help housing owners, developers, and property managers explore personalized options for installing networks to bring broadband to common areas as well as individual housing units. Centri Connect also educates property owners about other add-on technologies and services that a building-wide network can facilitate, such as: TV streaming services, sensors that monitor safety and energy efficiency; as well as other IoT applications, such as smart door locks, access control, thermostats, and more.
Future iterations of Centri Connect will also connect housing developers and property owners with federal, state, and private funding sources to help bring their projects to fruition.
Centri Tech Annual Report 2021