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Posted on: July 21, 2023

BLink Celebrates a Decade

BLink Party

Community leaders and residents gathered at River's Edge Pavilion Friday, July 21, 2023, to celebrate what a decade of the BLink Wi-Fi network has meant for the Council Bluffs community.

As one of the country's largest free public Wi-Fi networks, BLink helps bridge the digital divide faced by community members by boosting connectivity in many Council Bluffs neighborhoods, all of the Council Bluffs Community School District buildings, and many outdoor spaces.

"Through BLink, we are providing free access to the internet, thus empowering our youth to complete homework and explore their dreams without the added expense," said Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh. "Together, we are building a community where education knows no boundaries and every student has the tools to thrive."

In 2014, The Council Bluffs Community School District approved a plan that included a strategy to expand its Wi-Fi network for students in the community. The idea of providing free Wi-Fi stemmed from Google's donation of Chromebooks. Google committed to one laptop per student. However, some students couldn't use the laptops at home because they didn't have internet access.

BLink Highlights:

  • Through the Council Bluffs Schools alone, more than 15,000 users connected to BLink, completing 62 terabytes of schoolwork.
  • Since 2020, more than 293,000 unique devices have connected to BLink, consuming more than 900tb (or 1 petabyte) of information.
  • When the schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, BLink partners rushed to complete phases six and seven so the students in those neighborhoods could access remote learning.

"Google has been a proud partner of BLink since the beginning. Local Googlers have provided on-the-ground technology expertise to help ensure we're doing what we can to bridge the digital divide in the community," said Allie Hopkins, Data Center Area Lead for Google in Iowa and Nebraska. "This year marks our millionth dollar committed over the past decade, and we have been thrilled to see BLink's impact, successfully breaking down barriers and enhancing the quality of life here in Council Bluffs."

BLink funding continues to be a community-wide effort. No tax dollars have been used. BLink is supported by many community partners who have contributed funds, time, materials, labor, or expertise. The Council Bluffs Area Wi-Fi Consortium (CBAWC) is responsible for planning, installing, and maintaining the BLink Wi-Fi network. The CBAWC is an Iowa 28-E organization, and members include The City of Council Bluffs, Google, Iowa West Foundation, Council Bluffs Community School District, and Lewis Central Community School District.

"I am so proud of our community for partnering on this innovative project," Superintendent Vickie Murillo said. "Together, we are removing barriers and providing equitable access so that all students will continue to thrive in their learning. BLink is now an everyday gift to our students, families, and community."

The community picnic and celebration was hosted by the City of Council Bluffs, along with program partners Google, Iowa West Foundation, Council Bluffs Community School District, Lewis Central Community School District, and MidAmerican Energy.

"We all understand how critical Wi-Fi access is to our modern lives, but most of us don't realize what a remarkable achievement Blink actually is," said Brenda Mainwaring, President and CEO of the Iowa West Foundation. "In true Midwestern fashion, we prefer to let other people tell us when we've done something awesome - and they have. Communities from California, Louisiana, and Illinois have reached out to model their systems on Blink."

In December of 2022, the CBAWC completed the eighth and final phase of BLink in Council Bluffs Community School District neighborhoods. In May of 2023, the first phase for Lewis Central went live.

"As we move forward, I'm excited for the future of our schools, Council Bluffs, and our students, families, businesses, and community members," said Superintendent Dr. Brent Hoesing of Lewis Central Schools. "I'm energized by the work of this successful partnership and look forward to continuing to find new projects to partner on to help our community thrive.

The impact of BLink has been noticed statewide and across the country. Council Bluffs was named the Iowa Technology Community of the Year at the 2021 Prometheus Awards, hosted by the Technology Association of Iowa. The Prometheus Awards acknowledge individuals, companies, and communities impacting Iowa's technology industry.

In addition to the CBAWC, many community partners have contributed funds, time, materials, labor, or expertise including SmartWAVE Technologies, Ruckus Wireless, Charles E. Lakin Foundation, Echo Group, Emspace, Miller Electric, UNITE Private Networks, Bluffs Electric, City of Carter Lake, OPPD, and Community Foundation for Western Iowa.

At project completion, the BLink coverage area will reach more than 20 square miles, providing Wi-Fi access to more than 40,000 people and reaching the doorsteps of most homes in Council Bluffs.

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