Anchor Connectivity Initiative

Providing high-quality broadband for anchor institutions is not only important for the institution itself. In fact, anchors can provide a “jumping off point” to extend broadband connectivity to the surrounding residential and business community. The SHLB Coalition calls this strategy deploying broadband “to and through” the anchor institution.

Dozens of anchor institutions are using wired or wireless technologies to provide low-cost broadband service to unserved or underserved homes. Government policies should foster such investment by ensuring that networks built to serve anchor institutions are also open to interconnection and sharing with the surrounding community. The SHLB Coalition’s Anchor Connectivity Initiative raises awareness of anchor-led projects that extend broadband connectivity to the surrounding community. Promoting broadband networks “to and through” anchor institutions enhances the economic viability of broader community efforts to close the digital divide.

Anchor Connected Communities Series

SHLB launched "Anchor Connected Communities" in May 2022 as a virtual discussion series featuring on-the-ground experts who have led deployments of anchor-facilitated community networks. You can watch the first installments below. 

Recording: Why Try Community Wi-Fi? A Case Study from Council Bluffs

Blink – or Bluffs Community Wi-Fi – is a wireless network established by the Council Bluffs Community School District (CBCSD) and City of Council Bluffs in Iowa that is currently providing free home internet service to nearly 85 percent of the district’s 8,500 students. Launched in 2014, the network was initiated to support the school’s 1:1 learning initiative, but later played a vital role in enabling all CBCSD students to shift seamlessly to at-home learning when the pandemic hit. With dedicated speeds of 10/10 Mbps, the network provides sufficient home connectivity for its students at only a fraction of the cost of the alternatives. The network also serves the general public, extending to public spaces and reaching nearly 40 percent of the homes in the community.

In the July 2022 SHLB Coalition Anchor Connected Communities Series installment, we speak with John Stile, chief technology officer, Council Bluffs Community School District, to learn about the genesis and deployment of this network, including design considerations, technologies, costs, and partnerships.

Recording: The What, Why, and How of Fresno USD's CBRS pLTE Network


Early in the pandemic, Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) in California started work on a wireless network to provide broadband to student homes. Existing cellular service and school-provided mobile hotspots were unable to offer adequate connectivity to all students on a consistent basis, prompting the search for supplemental solutions. FUSD decided to develop its own network using CBRS spectrum to reach the un- and underserved students.

For this installment of the Anchor Connected Communities series, Executive Officer of Information Technology at FUSD Philip Neufeld joins us to discuss the genesis and deployment of the district’s wireless network project, including design considerations, technologies used, costs, and partnerships. He also discusses key trade-offs considered in developing and deploying the network, as well as key lessons learned. 

Research: The "To and Through" Opportunity


An estimated 15 to 17 million students were cut off from remote learning when schools shut down at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic; a snapshot of the staggering connectivity crisis that afflicts communities and households from coast to coast. While federal assistance is available, much of the country’s more than $60 billion investment in broadband as part of the 2021 infrastructure law is yet to be spent. Thus, there is a pressing need to identify how communities can make the most of their resources when it comes to connecting students and erasing the “homework gap” that forms between students with reliable home internet access and those without.

The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition and the Open Technology Institute have long advocated for building broadband “To-and-Through” schools, libraries, and other “anchor institutions”—upgrading and extending the networks these public buildings already maintain to connect low-income households directly to the internet. This approach is often stymied by federal funding requirements that make it difficult to spend resources off campus. In January of 2021, our organizations petitioned the FCC to permit the use of E-rate funds to help pay to connect students without adequate internet access at home.

This project, a joint undertaking of the SHLB Coalition and OTI, comprises two parts: an economic study by Dr. Raul Katz of Telecom Advisory Services and a series of case studies examining communities around the country that exemplify the To-and-Through approach.

The economic study clearly demonstrates that building broadband networks To-and-Through anchor institutions is often the most cost effective and financially sustainable option for connecting students in rural and underserved areas. The case studies show that both large and small school districts, including Council Bluffs (IA) and Fresno (CA), are using a variety of wireless technologies and partnerships to permanently close the homework gap.

These findings offer key revelations for policymakers and advocates as we all look to make the most of present and future investments in closing the digital divide, as well as providing a roadmap for communities to pursue their own successful To-and-Through solutions.

Read the Study

Who is SHLB?

Mission: “For every anchor institution in the country to have affordable, high-quality broadband that serves the needs of the institution and is open and accessible to the surrounding community.”