Small-Scale Cooperative Cellular Networks for Broader Internet Access

This planning grant will launch a collaboration between the University of Washington (UW) and the Tacoma Cooperative Network (TCN) to explore how locally-owned and operative Cooperative Cellular Networks (CCNs) can increase urban community resilience to natural disasters. Despite decades of attention to the problem of digital divides, inequity persists in the US. When disasters occur, communities that are digitally marginalized are made more vulnerable by the shift to suddenly-critical online services. Community networks are an emerging solution to these issues, which put communities in charge of provisioning their own last-mile Internet infrastructure. However, community networking solutions continue to face key technical limitations, and little research has explored their potential role during disasters. In response to technical limitations, our interdisciplinary team proposes to develop and implement a new Cooperative Cellular Network architecture. In this design, multiple private networks collaborate to provide coverage to subscribers, sharing resources such as authentication primitives, spectrum, and subscribers using a distributed design. TCN and UW researchers will then explore the implications that this network has for the resilience of marginalized neighborhoods in Tacoma, Washington. Through this process they will answer the following questions:
1. How can a hybrid model of service delivery serve as an effective way of updating community network infrastructure without interrupting or overwhelming system maintainers?
2. How do Neighborhood Captains programs that support community outreach transform local structures of social capital, digital literacy, and place-based resilience?
3. What role can CCNs play in facilitating community discussions of resilience, including community-based development of indicators and related data collection practices?
Over this four-month planning grant, our team will engage in technical and social activities to build capacity to answer these questions. Technical activities will focus on integrating the UW researchers’ novel network infrastructure with TCN’s existing network, and then extending that network to a high-needs community in Tacoma. Social activities will then expand engagement between UW researchers, TCN, and other Tacoma based stakeholders, to ensure that Stage 2 work is driven by the ideas and needs of civic organizations.

Grant Info


Kurtis Heimerl


Emily Slager

Start Date

Jan 1, 2020