ISU project named finalist for rural broadband initiative, wins $300,000 grant

A project led by Iowa State University has been selected as one of two finalists in a national competition to get a city-scale testbed that’s aimed at studying how to bring down the cost of delivering broadband to rural communities

The ISU project and the other finalist, a project led by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will each get $300,000 from the National Science Foundation. Those teams will use the grants to optimize their proposals, with one expected to receive the final full grant next year.

If awarded, ISU’s project, “ARA: Wireless Living Lab for Smart and Connected Rural Communities,” would be the fourth such testbed in the United States, according to an ISU news release. Whoever wins will join the existing three wireless testbeds in New York City, Salt Lake City and the Research Triangle in North Carolina.

The project would provide a wireless network platform across ISU, Ames, Nevada, and other surrounding rural cities, communities, and farms. This network is not intended as an internet service provider for individual customers, but rather to provide a platform for a “living lab” or wireless research related to municipal services.

Leading the project for Iowa State is Hongwei Zhang, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“ARA has been planned to contribute to the U.S. leadership in advanced wireless research and innovation and to address the long-standing challenges in rural broadband,” Zhang said in an announcement.

According to an Ames city document from last Dec., ISU submitted a similar proposal in 2018 which was short-listed as one of the very few finalists but ultimately not selected for funding. The proposing team was strongly encouraged to refine and resubmit its proposal.