Investing in Wave 7 — a community-focused ISP expanding high-speed internet in rural North Carolina
Connect Humanity closes its first impact investment
I’m excited to announce that Connect Humanity has closed our first investment, in Wave 7 Communications, which will enable hundreds of unconnected people to gain access to the internet for the first time. For two years, LaShawn Williamson and her team have been building a network to provide the mostly unconnected rural community of Enfield, North Carolina with high speed internet access that is more than three times faster than any other operator.
Connect Humanity is providing a blended investment package of $350,000 to enable Wave 7 to reach 400+ additional subscribers in Enfield — almost two-thirds of the town’s population — and to advance its efforts to reach a further 1,600 households in neighboring towns.
As our first impact investment, this marks a major milestone in Connect Humanity’s journey as a fund. And I’m thrilled that it is with the Wave 7 team, who uphold so many of the values and goals we had when we set up our organization, around equity, community, and financial sustainability.
Connecting underserved communities
While there are some internet service providers operating in Enfield, they generally struggle to provide 25mbps — the FCC’s woefully low standard for broadband speeds — which limits the ability of residents and businesses to use services like streaming and video calls.
At an average of $96 per month, existing internet service offerings are currently unaffordable for most people living in the community, with 37% of families living under the Federal Poverty Level. As a result, less than a third of households have an internet subscription.
Wave 7 offers residents a better option, providing a wireless solution with speeds of up to 120 Mbps — 3x as fast as any current service available — and it’s affordable too. Wave 7 uses a ‘pay as you go’ model, so subscribers only pay for the data that they consume. The company also provides an ‘always on’ service so that people struggling to pay bills still have a baseline level of internet access.
This commitment to ensure that people can get online regardless of their financial position, is in lockstep with our mission to invest in community connectivity providers that enable historically underserved communities to access and use the internet. With a 90% Black population, Enfield supports our commitment to invest in communities of color.
Holistic approach to digital equity
Another priority we have as a funder is a focus on factors beyond infrastructure that can prevent people accessing and benefiting from the internet. Wave 7 excels here, having worked closely with the community to remove barriers to access, including a partnership with local non-profit Community of Hope Center to run digital literacy classes to prepare residents to get set up and use the internet. It also provides scholarships to families with school-aged children to pay for laptops and free internet service.
We have included grant funding to support Wave 7’s work with the Community of Hope Center as part of our investment in Enfield.
By removing these barriers, Wave 7 not only bridges digital divides, but expands the company’s base of potential customers, creating a more sustainable network in the long term.
So how does Wave 7 provide speeds that are three times as fast at a fraction of the cost as other ISPs in Enfield? Wave 7’s wireless technology is a cost-effective way to provide fast internet to the community at a price-point people can afford. Strong local buy-in has helped the company reduce operating costs. The town has made municipal assets available to host networking equipment that help extend the company’s coverage area, while town residents and businesses also act as relays, hosting equipment which allows neighbors to serve internet to neighbors.
This is a quintessentially community-based network. In turn, Wave 7 will employ local residents to expand and maintain the network, building skills and keeping resources within the local community. LaShawn and her team are creating a wave the whole community can ride.
Our investment is the beginning of Connect Humanity’s relationship with Wave 7, not the end. We will have a close ongoing partnership with the team, providing support and advice for its growth strategy, business operations, financing, and technical deployment. Congratulations to the Wave 7 team for all that it has achieved so far in advancing digital equity.
To learn more about Wave 7’s work to advance digital equity, read our interview with the founder and CEO, LaShawn Williamson.