Expanding Wi-Fi is ‘defining moment’ for residents

Tom Bergeron//July 27, 2015//

Expanding Wi-Fi is ‘defining moment’ for residents

Tom Bergeron//July 27, 2015//

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There was plenty of talk about how much Newark Venture Partners — leveraging the amazingly high-speed Internet the city has — can be an accelerator to tech startups while drawing already-established tech companies to the city.And there was plenty of talk about how the city’s high-speed Internet will get current businesses and universities to expand, helping to keep workers and students within the city.

But at the unveiling news conference last week at Audible’s headquarters, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wanted to make sure one thing wasn’t overlooked: How much the current residents of the city will benefit.

“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s hard to begin to describe how this will help the residents here. And this is just the beginning.”

Having Wi-Fi available throughout the city — to all residents at all times — will be a difference-maker, as it will open up opportunities to residents they don’t currently have. This access, he said, will help level the playing field.

The Rev. Dr. David Jefferson of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark said it will do more than that. Simply put, he feels it will be a way that dreams can be realized.

“This is a defining moment in our city,” he said last week. “What is happening here today will certainly take (Newark) to the next level.

“Today, the world comes to Newark. Young people who may not ever travel the world will have the opportunity for the world to come to them through this technology.”

They already are using it.

Baraka said residents already had figured out they could connect, estimating that more than 4,000 people already are using Wi-Fi downtown and about 700 more are using it in their residences.

And that, he said, was before any announcements or advertising.

“The minute we put it out there, we’re going to have thousands of more people involved,” he said.

And that’s only the beginning.

“We want to expand our Wi-Fi from Lincoln Park to Washington Park,” he said. “We need help doing that. And once we do that, we (can) expand Wi-Fi into lower Broadway, into Clinton Avenue and South Orange Avenue, and Vailsburg.

“We get to offer free Wi-Fi Internet access to thousands of Newarkers who may not have access to Wi-Fi without that. We get to do that here, we get to turn Newark into a smart city.”

Helping to redevelop the urban core has been a goal of Audible founder and CEO Don Katz since he brought his company to Newark in 2007.

“This is a project designed to escalate and further energize the reweaving of the tapestry of the great American city,” he said. “Social impact venture investing could become a powerful new model for urban renaissance everywhere.”

Jobs, everyone connected with the project said, come first.

“It’s the multiplier effect,” Baraka explained. “For every manufacturing job that is created, there is maybe one-and-a-half to two professional jobs that are created as a result of that manufacturing job. But when tech jobs are created, there are about four-and-a-half to five professional jobs that are created as a result of that technical job.

“It’s important for us to wrap our brains around what’s going to happen here. If we expand in terms of technology and bring more technology companies to the city, we bring more jobs overall as a result at the same time to help us push forward to get more Newarkers employed.”

Jefferson, however, was quick to point out the dreams of better jobs — of entrepreneurship for the next generation — could be more valuable.

“Sunday after Sunday, I have the opportunity to stand and deliver a message of inspiration,” he said. “Today, this particular venture, this particular initiative, moves us beyond inspiration and moves us into the zone of transformation: the nexus where we have inspiration, meeting innovation, meeting transformation.

“The message on Sunday is going to talk about how we can move to the point where we can not only inspire but transform. Many of these young people are looking for job opportunities. They definitely have aspirations, dreams, hopes — and we can honestly say that today it moves us in a direction of making that a reality.”