‘Covington Connect’ Wi-Fi project wins international award

Essam Elgusain, Covington’s IT Manager and System Analyst, poses with Covington Connect’s Smart 50 Award.

Partnership created to smash digital divide joins list

of 50 most transformative ‘smart’ initiatives in the world

COVINGTON, Ky. – A City-led initiative to smash the digital divide in Covington by expanding access to free, public Wi-Fi has been named one of the 50 most transformative “smart” projects in the world.

To date, almost half of Covington residents have signed up for public Wi-Fi through what’s called “Covington Connect,” and it already has hosted more than 780,000 online sessions with an average duration of over an hour.

This week, the collaborative project unveiled during the start of the pandemic was recognized by Smart Cities Connect at the 5th Annual Smart 50 Award Gala in Columbus, Ohio.

The award puts Covington Connect in the company of such projects as a new demand-responsive ride-sharing service in Australia, a data study that combined COVID-19 cases and human movement patterns in a province of Thailand, and a gunshot detection technology project in Florida.

Essam Elgusain, the Covington’s IT Manager and System Analyst who continues to play a huge role in the initiative, attended the gala and accepted the award.

“Supporting a new innovative public service that has the capability to transform lives has been a humbling experience,” Elgusain said. “I don’t think we fully realize all the benefits we’ll be seeing in the future because of this.”

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer praised the work of the many partners in the collaborative effort, which included altafiber (formerly Cincinnati Bell), the Housing Authority of Covington, Covington Independent Public Schools, local computer firms Blair Technology Group and ReGadget, and Houston-based non-profit Comp-U-Dopt.

“Covington Connect has been a fantastic partnership that strengthens thousands of our city’s families,” Meyer said. “The usage numbers are absolute evidence of the need and opportunity it provides.”

A swift connection

The impetus for Covington Connect was the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, when schools sent students home and employed distance learning, many workers went remote, and medical appointments transitioned to telehealth.

At the time, surveys showed 40 percent of Covington school children lacked regular Internet access, limiting their ability to participate in a meaningful way in their education.

To help fix that inequity, the City and its partners came together in the courtyard at Hotel Covington for a news conference, seen HERE, to announce the initiative.

Covington Connect’s primary goal was to deploy a high-speed intelligent Wi-Fi network throughout Covington’s neighborhoods, public housing, and business districts by running new fiber and/or setting up 124 “hotspots,” or wireless access points.

It also included the distribution of 1,000 free computers to families of schoolchildren.

While allowing children to access school lessons from home was a primary goal, the free public Wi-Fi also enabled families to do everything from apply for jobs to see a doctor online to reserve a library book to attend a training seminar.

"Access to high-speed Internet is critical in order for individuals to access education, healthcare, and employment opportunities. It is also an essential part of economic development efforts,” said Jason Praeter, President & General Manager of altafiber’s Network Division. “altafiber is proud to partner with the City of Covington and multiple partners on the Covington Connect initiative, which is creating more digital equity in the community, and leveraging Smart City technology to support local businesses.”

Elgusain said the project has been transformational for many previously underserved areas of the community.

He and his team worked tirelessly to help create Covington Connect and continue to maintain it, consistently checking on the 124 Wi-Fi access points to analyze data and verify accessibility, making sure the system provides the best possible access to the “information superhighway.”

During regular Wi-Fi site visits, Elgusain said it’s not unusual for passersby to stop and inquire why he’s staring at the sky with his laptop.

“I’ll point to a nearby Covington Connect sign advertising the Wi-Fi zone and, to their surprise, they’ll realize they have access to Wi-Fi,” he said. “It’s really exciting that we have something so innovative and cool to offer.”

More information about Covington Connect can be seen HERE.

About the award

The Smart 50 Awards is an annual award program offered in partnership with Smart Cities Connect and the Smart Cities Connect Foundation that celebrates the most innovative and influential municipal-scale projects in the world. To date, awardees have represented projects from more than 15 countries.

This year, 30 percent of the projects receiving awards assist with urban operations, 26 percent support improved mobility, and another 26 percent feature digital transformation.

The complete list of winners can be seen HERE.  

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