Last year, it was downtown Madison. This week, it’s the White House.
In Sept. 2015, Madison internet and technology company 5Nines announced it would provide free internet access to downtown Madison. That effort has piqued the attention of a pair of federal offices, spurring an invite for 5Nines and its project partner to present in Washington D.C. this week.
“A lot of people deploy experiments and lot of them fail ... ours just didn’t,” said Anton Kapela, chief technology officer at 5Nines.
5Nines began collaborating on plans for the downtown wireless network with the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Wisconsin Wireless and NetworkinG Systems (WiNGS) Laboratory in 2014, shortly before the lab received a portion of a $15 million federal grant to study and develop cutting edge internet infrastructure.
Kapela and Dr. Suman Banerjee, head of the WiNGS Lab, will present to the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation on Tuesday, during a discussion of internet access innovations across the country.
Kapela said Madison is ahead of most of the country when it comes to high-level research and discussions about internet access, but lags behind in terms of widespread accessibility for residents.
According to 2013 U.S. Census data, 13 percent of Madison homes don’t have internet access.
5Nines has been involved in a variety of discussions and political efforts regarding internet access in Madison, including responding to a city request for proposals to provide internet access to four low-income neighborhoods last year.
The firm was not selected for the project. Instead, the city opted for a proposal that offered a fiber network.
Mayor Paul Soglin has been vocal about his preference for fiber, which is touted by proponents as more reliable than wireless internet. Proponents also contend fiber provides faster connection speeds.
“We are working toward providing (Internet cable) fiber, high-speed fiber, for every home and business,” Mayor Soglin told The Cap Times in July 2015. “It would be great for business and great for closing the digital divide.”
For his part, Kapela said the preference for fiber over wireless is “dogma.”
“I think it’s assumptions and will and also the dogma and the lack of visibility around this space,” he said of political resistance to wireless systems. “This is really yet one more example of, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’”
“Once you explain these things, it’s pretty obvious,” he said.
After his presentation in Washington, Kapela plans to visit some friends in New York City to talk about LinkNYC, a public wireless internet, phone and device charging network.
He said he hopes to learn more about that project and perhaps bring some ideas back to Madison. He said coming back armed with an example of another city’s successful effort might help him change some minds locally.
“We already can do this stuff," he said. "It’s just you have to have will around it."