Pittsburgh Nonprofit Organization to Expand Free Internet in New Kensington, Wilkinsburg through Foundation Grants

A Pittsburgh nonprofit has received more than $1.4 million from foundations as it plans to expand its free Internet access to communities in need across southwestern Pennsylvania.

Meta Mesh Wireless Communities has announced that it has received $1.13 million from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation for its wireless Internet service, Every1online. Meta Mesh has also received a contribution of $250,000 from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and $51,125 from the Hopper-Dean Foundation.

Meta Mesh provides wireless Internet access to institutional sponsors, such as school districts, government agencies, and nonprofits, that provide online services. Sponsors work with Meta Mesh to select families within their service areas to receive free internet through Every1online.

Meta Mesh said it’s starting the new year by expanding its pilot programs in New Kensington and Wilkinsburg. Over the next year, it plans to expand the Every1online network to at least 11 new communities in and around Allegheny County.

“We are currently evaluating several communities within Allegheny and Westmoreland County to be potential expansion sites,” said Samantha Garfinkel, CEO of Meta Mesh. “Key factors in our study for each location are the documented need for a reliable internet connection at home as well as proximity to our existing infrastructure.”

To date, Every1online has connected over 100 people in Homewood and Coraopolis to free home Wi-Fi and public access points.

Garfinkel said the service was not yet available in New Kensington due to delays in installing infrastructure due to supply chain problems and a lack of available skilled labor.

“We will be completing this part of the project in the second week of February and in the meantime we are reaching out to those who have pre-registered to inform them of upcoming available home installation dates,” she said.

Garfinkel said there is room for more New Kensington residents to sign up to see if the project’s signal makes it to their homes. Those interested can fill out an online form at metamesh.org/every1online/form or call 412-223-4253.

In a few weeks, Garfinkel said, the project will reach its most challenging stage when it locates its internet infrastructure on a tower near New Kensington.

“This infrastructure will be used to spread our wireless signals across the city of New Kensington,” she said. “We experienced some delays in our efforts in Westmoreland County during 2021 that were related to the pandemic, but we are very excited to be so close to bringing sponsored internet services to New Kensington-Arnold residents.”

A representative of the Henry L. Hillman Foundation could not be reached for comment on Monday about its award to Meta Mesh.

Garfinkel said the foundation’s award will go toward the next three years of the organization’s expansion, including signing on more sponsoring customers who will contribute to the service’s sustainability so that Meta Mesh can continue to provide the internet service at no cost to the end user.

“As a social enterprise, Meta Mesh is working towards a self-sufficient state,” she said. Most nonprofits are supported largely through contributing sources, such as donations and grants, and may generate a small portion of their revenue from their programs and services.

“As an Internet Service Provider, we need to ensure that our operations are not solely dependent on grants and donors so that there is no interruption in the provision of our services.”

Brian C. Rittmer is a writer for the Tribune Review. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, brittmeyer@triblive.com or via Twitter .