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Nonprofits Build Free Community Internet Network in Red Hook

 The Red Hook Initiative and Open Technology Institute are creating a community wifi network within Red Hook along with a Digital Stewards program for young adults.
Red Hook Wifi Program
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RED HOOK — There’s still no subway stop but here’s one connection you can make.

A wireless community network, that would give locals free Internet access, will soon cover the neighborhood and allow easier paths to communication.

The Red Hook Initiative, a Brooklyn community center, launched the “Red Hook Wifi” project earlier this year, installing wireless routers at churches, schools and other community spaces.

The nonprofit has provided Internet coverage to about 30 percent of the neighborhood and it hopes to complete 80 percent by the end of the year, said Anthony Schloss, director of media programs for the Red Hook Initiative.

Schloss saw the dire need for a neighborhood-wide communication system after Hurricane Sandy struck the neighborhood, even though he had started working on the project in 2011 with the Open Technology Institute, a program of the New American Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think-tank, he said.

“A need was demonstrated that we knew already existed,” Schloss said.

But wireless Internet is just one tool of the project, he said.

A “mesh network,” which the team is working on, will allow residents to send messages to each other without accessing the Internet.

The group is also creating local “apps” for the neighborhood, like a “Stop-and-Frisk” app and even one to track the tardy B61 bus.

And to help people learn about their neighborhood, the team will build a “splash” or “neighborhood page,” which will feature job listings, tourist information, among others, and can be accessed offline within Red Hook.

The project has also formed a “Digital Stewards Program,” where 19- to 24-year-old members of the neighborhood nonprofit can learn about computer development while helping to build the network.

The Digital Stewards would act as “community liaisons” — go-to experts for Red Hook’s technology needs from setting up an email account to computer hassles, said Georgia Bullen, field operations technologist for the Open Technology Institute.

The one-year program teaches the stewards about computer troubleshooting, planning, organizing and wireless installation, said Bullen, adding this training would add to their job skills or even let them stay in computer work.

Katherine Ortiz, 22, knows that she wants to continue this work long-term, she said.

Ortiz, who grew up in Red Hook and has been a digital steward for seven months, said the network would allow people to “know what’s going on in the neighborhood instead of being in the dark.”

So far, Ortiz has installed about eight “nodes” for Internet access while learning about computer development and helping to train new digital stewards.

“A good community isn’t a good community unless everyone in it is involved,” she said.