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Council Bluffs is a city of 62,000 in Southwest Iowa, located on the east bank of the Missouri River. While it had been a major railroad hub and industrial center in the mid 1900s, these industries restructured or moved, and in the early 2000s, downtown urban renewal efforts were undertaken to create a new future building on its historical roots.
One major step forward occurred when Google decided to build a large data center in Council Bluffs. However, even as the tech giant was creating high tech jobs and adding significant new tax revenue, city leaders became increasingly aware of the ‘digital divide’ in town. Simply put, a large portion of the residents lacked high quality Internet access, which was impacting their careers, educations and social activities.
“Technology can be a great equalizer for students and families from different backgrounds, but without access, it simply cannot happen,” said Pete Tulipana, President and CEO of the Iowa West Foundation. In today’s world, getting things done means being connected. So community leaders in Council Bluffs came up with a crazy idea—what if we tried to connect everyone with free Wi-Fi? While the City had offered limited free Wi-Fi since 2009, a coalition of community leaders came together to see how they could expand that service. They committed to provide internet access for lifelong learning, bridging the digital divide, and ensuring services for residents that may not have other broadband options available.