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Bringing Broadband Internet to Public Housing with WiTec

Kevin Bornatsch is second-year grad student from Cologne, Germany. He is getting his MS in Information Management and Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) in Information Security Management. He is a part of the iSchool student group WiTec (Worldwide Innovation and Technology) team and sat down with me to discuss what is happening in their organization. 

So what is WiTec?

It’s a student group that has been around for about 10 years and was not officially recognized by the iSchool or iSO or GSO until last year. Professor McKnight is the creator of WiTec, he took a bunch of his grad students to help him with his projects. Anyone he saw that could help with a project, he used. WiTec works on a plethora of things; anything from technical implementations to government work, to a collaboration with Columbia University on a project called “White Spaces.”

How did you get into WiTec?

I got into the WiTec because Josephine, the president of WiTec, is a good friend of mine. She said that I should come by to check out the group and I’ve been there ever since. 

If you have any interest in any area of technology at all, you can find a home there (WiTec) and find people who have interests in it and can help develop your ideas. It’s just a great resource to find people to help you with whatever project you’re doing.

What is WiTec’s main purpose?

The main purpose of what WiTec does is centered around the “Open Specifications Model.” It’s a paper that Professor McKnight has been working on over the past few years in partnership with Virginia Tech. It’s a paper about wireless grid internet platforms and edgeware applications.

Professor McKnight has been to the White House to talk about his project, which is why WiTec began in the first place. A friend of Professor McKnight’s from the NTIA (The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) asked him if he had any students that would like to help him with his paper. It’s been growing with projects ever since.

What’s your role in WiTec?

There was another student (coincidentally named Kevin) who was managing the projects last year as an MPA alum. Once that Kevin left, I took over as project manager.

My role is a combination of a project manager and liaison. I’m also the virtual intern for the NTIA. I act as the point of contact between the NTIA and the iSchool. I make sure the information goes to the students from the NTIA, at the right time, right sizes, the correct directions, and making sure that there are enough students to take on the project. All of this is done with students and the work is done in Professor McKnight’s classes.

What projects are you working on currently?

Right now I’m working on 4 projects with the NTIA which has been going on for about year. The 4 projects are broadband adoption, digital inclusion, creating a cost model for public housing with broadband access for public housing, and last semester we worked on native nations and smart cities. 

So what does the NTIA do?

They help those in public housing and create an environment that helps residents get the tools they need to succeed and improve their current environment. With WiTec’s broadband project, they’re able to provide programs that give them internet access so people can look for jobs online and work on the internet overall. 

The second step is building programs that help people find jobs and learn how to succeed. With broadband adoption and digital inclusion, it allows everyone to access the internet for their own benefit. The program helps teach them how to use the internet for jobs. They also help set up programs that teach them skill sets to obtain that job. 

What does WiTec do for the NTIA?

Right now we’re working on a cost-model project for them. Last year, Kevin Risser, an alum of the group, worked with a group of grad students from Professor McKnight’s class. They worked on a cost model with different variables. If any organization wants to bring broadband internet to public housing, they change the variables to figure out the cost model. The price ranges for installation and how to keep it up and running.

The data used to base the model off is the CPUC data (California Public Utility Commission). That data is publicly available which was helpful and the CPCU very willing to work with us. They created a cost model that worked out and is still being perfected today in WiTec by undergraduate students who are adding data from additional cities.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Morgan Lyons

Morgan Lyons

Morgan is the Student Editor for InfoSpace. She is majoring in Information Management and Technology with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. She is an iSchool Peer Advisor and a brother of Phi Sigma Pi, The National Honors Fraternity. You can spot her wearing all black and most likely talking about Feminism.

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