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More than 1,000 income-subsidized housing units in San Francisco are getting free gigabit internet

Not everyone in the tech capital of the world has access to internet.

Realtors Lower Housing Market Sales Forecast Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Today, when residents at San Francisco’s Hunters Point East and West low-income, federally subsidized housing complex went online, many had access to free gigabit speed internet for the first time.

This isn’t Wi-Fi that’s shared throughout the building, but rather each individual unit is getting its own fiber-speed internet connection.

Hunters Point is the first housing development to get the service, where nearly 300 people live across 212 units in 27 buildings.

But by the end of next year, more than 1,000 additional units of San Francisco income-subsidized housing will receive free gigabit internet, servicing nine more developments in the Tenderloin neighborhood and four more in the Bayview area.

The internet provider behind the effort is local San Francisco outfit Monkeybrains, a company that specializes in fast internet transmitted through wireless antennas. Instead of breaking up a sidewalk to lay fiber or cables, Monkeybrains beams high-speed internet through antennas installed on rooftops. For the Hunters Point buildout, technicians are stringing cable from the rooftop antennas to connect every unit.

Monkeybrains teamed up with the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation, the nonprofit that owns the buildings, which were previously public housing units owned by the city.

Roughly 80 units went online today, according to Preston Rhea, a senior field engineer at Monkeybrains who helped to spearhead the project. The rest of the units are slated to go on later this year.

The service will cost residents nothing for at least the next two years, and after that, Monkeybrains has agreed to not charge residents more than $20 per month. To put that in perspective, Verizon shared in April that it would start selling a subscription for gigabit internet for $70 a month.

The buildout was funded in part by a grant from the California Public Utilities Commission, which helped pay to install the antennas and other infrastructure. Additional funding was provided by Bank of America, which is also helping to pay for computer classes that will be offered to residents later this year.

SFHDC already maintains a computer lab at Hunters Point. Those who participate in the lab training will receive one laptop or tablet per household.

“A lot of residents don’t have an email address or use email, so basic computer education will be important here,” said Deven Richardson, the director of real estate development at SFHDC.

Right now, a common way for low-income or public housing units to provide internet to residents is to hook up Wi-Fi hotspots in each building.

“Wi-Fi doesn’t guarantee universal level of service,” said Rhea. “Some units may have a stronger signal than others or it might not work in every room.” Rhea says that’s why Monkeybrains advocated to wire each unit with its own line.

Monkeybrains also says that each customer of the free gigabit internet in the income-subsidized housing units will receive the same level of service as any other customer. Residents do, however, have to pay for their own router.

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