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Bamboowifi Brings Free Connectivity to the N3rd Street Corridor

Philadelphia internet provider Bamboowifi has received a $15,000 grant from the Penn Treaty Special Services District (PTSSD) in order to expand its network of free wi-fi from Liberty Lands Park into the North 3rd (N3RD) Street Corridor.

When The Spirit last spoke to Bamboowifi in January of this year (“The Gamble of Taking Back the Internet”), co-founders David Platt and James Gregory were flying an extremely ambitious banner: to provide a grassroots internet service that could be reliable and fast enough to draw customers away from the clutches of the oft-criticized Comcast. Bamboo attempted to appeal to small businesses and household subscribers alike with an incentivized Kickstarter campaign, but as the deadline drew to a close, the company found itself falling substantially short of its mammoth $250,000 goal.

Now, nearly a full year later, Bamboowifi is finally beginning to materialize. The company’s new target is the strip of North 3rd Street (N3RD) that runs between Market and Girard, dubbed a Philly “tech corridor” due to the presence of technology-centric companies such as SEER Interactive and the Devnuts coworking space. Using Liberty Lands Park as a testing ground, Platt and Gregory realized that garnering support for their expansion would have to first come from the very neighborhood in which they reside. The Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association was quick to co-sponsor Bamboowifi’s grant proposal to the PTSSD.

“[We are] thrilled to sponsor this project,” writes Matt Ruben, president of the NLNA. “It’s a great quality of life enhancement to our neighborhood’s ‘village square’, [and] it’s totally consistent with the NLNA’s mission of servicing the community.”

The PTSSD typically provides grants to nonprofit institutions that benefit the neighborhoods and winning an endorsement from the NLNA was a huge victory in Bamboo’s corner.

“We had to demonstrate [how] we could provide real value to the local community,” says Gregory, “which we did in the form of sustainable free wi-fi.”

The co-founders understand that success is often hard to come by without offering some kind of proof, which Gregory feels may have played into the cancellation of the stagnant Kickstarter campaign in April. Philadelphians may be so entrenched in the looming familiarity of Comcast and Verizon that funding a brand new service provider sounds like a fairytale.

“We pivoted to starting smaller with a pilot network in Liberty Lands,” says Gregory. “[to prove that] we could provide service there.” With the grant money, expansion becomes a real option for the first time in Bamboowifi’s short time in Northern Liberties.

The lasting appeal of the N3RD Street Corridor isn’t lost on the duo. Part of Bamboowifi’s success will be tied directly to their ability to provide for a well-connected community of entrepreneurs and business owners. Much like their original plan, Bamboo would like to use the high concentration of businesses as access points for their service — a calculated move to earn the trust and comfort of the N3RD Street patrons — before moving on to homeowners and personal subscriptions.

With the proper funding in hand, it’s easy for Platt to visualize the capabilities of his company.

“We see Bamboowifi and the N3rd Street Network as being a great example of technological progress in the city,” he says. “[Tech] companies thrive here [because of] the community they’ve created along the corridor… N3rd Street is definitely the right place for a tech startup in Philly.”

The concepts that drive Bamboowifi, still in its infancy, require a great deal of faith. For a neighborhood entering its prime, Northern Liberties should be keen to double down on companies like those populating N3RD Street. These unique opportunities could provide exactly what it takes for the area to usher in an age of legitimate business revolution.

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