ellohay! West Michigan

A Conversation with Lee Weber

Posted in conversations, discovery stages, donations, meetings, organization, planning, projects, wifi by forgr on February 29, 2008

I met with Lee for lunch on Tuesday. We talked for quite a while about the wireless project here in the city, the infrastructure, the troubles, and the future.

The more meetings and conversations I have with people in my community, the more wildly apparent it becomes that there IS a need for something like this in this area. There’s a need for a program that provides potable technology, includes tools, offers education, and is dedicated to support.

I think the most inspiring thing about our meeting was that she believed in this project and the concept. She seemed like a supporter and wanted to stay in the conversation too.

Past the initial business plan, the pilot program may be the next goal. She suggested that we piggyback with an existing non-profit organization so that all donations are tax deductible for their donors (that was one of our largest barriers for a pilot program). They would also lend major credibility to our effort as well.

To get the pilot off the ground, that leaves:

• a venue for the event
• recipients
• volunteers, lots of smart volunteers
• a venue
• tracking, note-taking tools
• a fearless leader
• a fearless planning committee
• time

She gave me some new contacts as well, my list now is 40 people long. I thought it was shorter… phew! But I’ve made contact and had valuable conversations with 15 individuals… so 25 more right? At least.

Thank you Lee. I hope to talk to you again sometime soon.

A Conversation with Wireless Philadelphia

Posted in benchmarks, conversations, discovery stages, meetings, organization, planning, projects, research, wifi by forgr on February 26, 2008

Conversation with Thomas Kim, Operations Manager Wireless Philadelphia
(I called Wireless Philadelphia’s office today as a concerned citizen in Grand Rapids, MI. a man named Thomas answered the phone, I later learned that it was Thomas Kim, Operations Manager of the program. Notes are below in short statements… I’ll summarize at the end)

Their project is divided into three parts, all cooperating together 1. Wireless Philadelphia, 2. City of Phily, and 3. Earthlink
Wireless Philadelphia is a non-profit runs independently, no tax dollars went into it at all
RPF sent out from Wireless Philadelphia
EarthLink was chosen
They offered to pay build out themselves, operate it and maintain it
Concessions were made, generate revenue from subscribers
Main objective, was to make sure that there was digital inclusion, help brdge that gap
Subsidized accounts were created with EarthLink, $9.95
They are currently in a holding pattern, waiting to see what happens now that Earthlink is being purchased. Sucks. Read the snappy article on Philebritiy here.

Mayor was the incorporated, Interin COO
CIO put together an executive committee
City Government was part of that committee

(Thomas mentioned that Clearwire will most likely do Advertising, municipality)
Governance of organization: Board has four appointments, Mayor, 3 by council, 2 by board, CIO serves on board by default.

Marketing, website was part of operation, was from grants to Wireless Phildelphia Digital Inclusion program:
Group: Purchase bundles, $600 internet for one year, a laptop, classes, support resources
Individuals: sign up locations to earn a laptop, support, classes

They reached out to EARN, employment resources, network, welfare to work. Incentivized benchmarks, state funded.

They reached out to OIC programs, vocational institutions community based, life skill enhancement or building, city departments, ex-offenders, senior citizens based organizations, undeserved.

Brief time line: ’05 Business Plan, RFP. Summer of ’06 CEO was put in place, Fall of ’06 started finally, contracts

Not very well communicated in the beginning stages.

Is the program successful? When had full backing of vendor, okay
Biggest pain? service is the problem now

Wireless Philadelphia has largest Wifi coverage, 75%
Huston, 600 square miles
Portland, comparable

(WiMax will have same problems, Radio Frequency changes)

Any resources that your organization can offer to other cities, a kit, a how to? Nope.

About section on the website has more information, historic documents pdfs, RFP, network agreement, defines relationship

In short
Do it, and get as many community resources involved, write a complete business plan. He said we could call anytime.

Application process, thoughts

So for this workshop/project/program. How does someone join? The application process should be easy right?

A.) How to become a community member:

* Explain the project

* Name

* Address

* Phone number or best way to contact you


Why do you want to participate in this project? What would you do with your computer? How do you hope that a computer will help you?

Can you volunteer? (If no, how do you hope to give back to the community?)

Volunteer explanation, how would you like to help here? What are your strengths?

Take a photo

Get them an ID

Get them an email account

Give them reading materials, (information to think about while we process the application, 24 hours?)

B.) Once the application is accepted:

Come in to the workshop, with ID, meet with a volunteer for orientation

Register for classes (required?)

Start volunteer hours at the workshop (sorting hardware, stuff envelopes, clean, paint, install software, learn about their computers, how to fix, run and use their computer and our community effectively?)

C.) Get a laptop

What next? What’s missing?

Pilot program, thoughts

I met with some chums for lunch this week to discuss a potential pilot program for the laptop project. I woke up early a few mornings ago and started writing ideas down for (potentially) getting this program started. IF this workshop/program/organization is truly needed in our community, it’s going to need to get rolling some time soon right?

I know I’m really getting ahead of myself here, and I know that I’m going to need about 10 more people to help me think about this (that are as crazy as I am) but I need to get this stuff out before I convince myself that this is all a waste of time.

So here goes.


WHO?Programmers, Developers, IT people/tech support, Students, anyone who wants to learn or has anything to offer.

WHAT? Round up computers (3 each to begin with), clear them off, record problems, install Ubuntu, install Open Office, install Firefox, plug ins, mark favorites, test, and make the homepage the portal or intranet, create aliases on the desktop. Give ready laptops to people. Eat pizza, drink beer, down monsters. Brainstorm about the concept, talk about potential problems, get opinions.

WHERE? Any large space with outlets, tables, centrally located, able to have food and drinks, stay as long as we want.

WHY? Introduce the program, get computers ready, get ideas from the community, get ideas for education, bring the community together on a level playing ground, do something good for the area, get sign ups for volunteers, get feedback, get potential donors, talk about their next steps.

WHEN? Friday into Saturday? (how long does it take to do?) Overnight, during the weekend? Several dates?

HOW? List from colleges, universities, corporations, studios of possible participants. Make checklist of process. Get an organizational committee together, create website to register participants.


Other notes:

Press Release?

Play Wii and XBox games?


Display ideas centrally, white boards or large sticky notes on a huge wall

Make sure everyone knows why they are doing what they are doing, get them to feel like they are participating in forming, improving, and nurturing their community.

Video taped? Photos? Audio testamonials?

Make sure everyone knows what their role is next, after the even(s) how can I help?

Get ideas for good links for audiences, (children, single moms, elderly, special needs, manufacturing employees etc.)

Portal/Intranet exploration


So, Scott thinks that before we do this, we need to legally be a non-profit, we need to have people already in line to get these machines, potentially run the program with just one area of the community (he suggests my street).

I have reservations, that’s four steps ahead. That’s too advanced for a pilot program. I want to fail fast. He suggested that I give one to my little sister, but she has a computer. What does she do with it? Play free online games, and type huge letters in Word… but she’s seven. AND that’s all she’s been taught that computers can do.

So who? Who are idea candidates? How can we support them at this stage in the game? How can it start?

I don’t have my notebook that I took notes with with me this evening, so I’ll comment later, but shoot, I’m stumped and I’m scared, but then again I was scared about the block party too…

Something new, updates

Posted in discovery stages, meetings, players, projects, research, wifi by forgr on February 16, 2008

So, overall the meeting with Sally went well on Thursday.

A lot of the questions (that I openly asked in the previous post) were answered, which is great, right? It’s good to communicate… it’s good.

About WiMax in Grand Rapids:

• WiMax is powerful, she said that during the demo she was going 70mph down the highway while streaming high quality video and checking her email. Cool beans.
• it will cost money to get a receiver/antennae or a card in your computer
• It will cost money each month for the service, (there’s a reduced rate for people in need, $9.95)
• There will be free hotspots all over the city, for visitors and wanderers
• Her team started the initiative in 2004, and basically corporate restructuring and logistics have caused the time delays
• The launch date has not been announced
• There is no formal plan to announce it to the public at this time
• She’s confident that people will learn about it by word of mouth

There are key questions that still need to be answered though, right? We’ll write more about those later…

She wanted to know about the project that I (roughly) introduced to her in my initial email. I explained our fantasy project. In short, she loved it and said “there should be more people in the world like [us]”.

On one hand it was refreshing to hear that there is genuinely a need for a digital inclusion plan, and that our project would thrive. On the other hand, I was actually frightened that there wasn’t already one in place. So the city has no plan and we’re all on our own?

From what I understand there aren’t any real plans in place at the current time for digital inclusion in this city. But Mayor Heartwell wants there to be plans, I’m pretty sure she said there’s a digital inclusion/digital divide board in its infancy currently… She was vague.

She did say we could get a letter of support from the mayor for our project though. Wow.

She cited a few independent resources for buying cheap computers, but not anything like a “program” or a “process” for individuals without real means to get a real quality machine in their hands. And no large scale training, workshop or support programs.

She did offer to provide contacts, and facilitate relationships with key individuals in the community. She did. I have a long list of people to call this weekend (and leave half-baked messages in their voicemail) but I’m actually excited about it.

• Community Media Center (workshop for non profits, web consultants for nonprofits)
• Grand Rapids Foundation
• Comprenew
• Mayor’s Wireless/Digital Inclusion/Digital Divide Advisory Board?
• Parks and Recreation

We also talked to Julie last night. Julie Julie, our Julie. She likes the project idea too. She gave me some potential contacts, maybe Hank Meijer would be interested? Maybe the Progressive Women’s Alliance? She says it’s good, smart, new.

Alright, I’m going to the Red Cross Indian Village Apartment Fire Reunion in a little while, so I’m going to go try to chill out for a bit. See if I can leave some more cryptic messages in people’s voicemail boxes too.

Cheers and happy Saturday.

Hi, I’m Marie-Claire -OR- Finally, an introduction to what you’ve been reading

Posted in discovery stages, projects by forgr on February 13, 2008

It’s time for an introduction to what you’re reading, and it’s time I introduced myself. For those visiting, all two of you, my name is Marie-Claire. I live in Michigan, I’m 27, I work full-time as an Interaction Designer at a design consultancy, I’m also an active volunteer.

I’d work full time with and for nonprofit organizations if they could reliably take care of my everyday needs.

I’m not a mom, a teacher, or a practiced blogger, and I don’t think I’m a good writer either (I used to have a blog in 2001 but I abandoned it because I didn’t have anything I wanted to say to the people who were reading it, I wrote about what I had for dinner. It was just terrible). Today I’m logging events with a loose goal in mind. Whether it’s technological/digital inclusion in the community, talking through Grand Rapids getting wifi, or getting whatever this IS out into the air. I’m just young and in love with passionate people and ideas.

I wish I could provide a definitive mission statement right here, but no, I’m learning to keep my expectations low these days, so I’m not going to have one here for a long time.

Moving on to the reason this post exists. A few weeks ago my husband and I started thinking about the history of the municipal wifi initiative that was started here in Grand Rapids, MI. About five years ago at least, we saw a yellow Sprint billboard on 196, or 131… can’t remember… with a map of Grand Rapids, that advertised wireless access all over the city. I’m pretty sure it said “Coming Soon” or something like that. We simply thought, “Score! That sounds cool!” I think I might have wondered how much it would cost, or if would be free.

Fast forward through five years of life, countless directly related instances and a handful of wifi-enabled devices… to now, naturally I have a lot more questions. My initial question is, what’s taking so long to get wifi here? Along with that question, I have at least 20 others readily available to ask the right people, for example:

Who’s in charge of this project?
What went wrong with Sprint?
What’s going on now?
How close are we actually achieving our goal?
Have the people in charge done their homework in picking a vendor or do we have consultants?
Do we have an appropriate vendor selected now?
If it launches soon, what is the plan to roll it out?
Do schools, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, citizens know that it’s coming?
What can citizens do to help?
What can I do to help?
Did you including schools, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, citizens in the planning process?
What about the people who don’t have computers?
What about the people who can’t afford computers and really shold have access to this?
Are there any technological/digital inclusion plans in place?
Will it cost money to gain access or will it be free? Yes, I’m still wondering about that one…
What are the restrictions?
Is there a plan set up for abuse problems?
Are there any training program plans in place?
Are we advertising this in our tourism department?
Is there a budget defined?
Have we blown that budget already?
Are we using other cities’ boards, benchmarking them, paying attention to case studies as resources?
CAN citizens actually do anything to speed it along or smooth it out?
Do schools, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, citizens think it’s a good thing too?
Do schools, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, citizens have plans in place to utilize this great gift?
Have we been able to definitely rule out getting wifi for free?
How far will the wifi reach?
Who will have access?
Who else feels as inquisitive as me?
Are we doing this right?
What will this do to or for our city?
WIll it bring us closer or brake us apart?

I know that’s a lot of questions. I know, I know. And I know things take long, but dang, you can’t dangle that carrot, watch other cities whizz right past you (technologically) and not start to wonder… what’s taking so long?

So I started writing all these questions down in my little notebook, partly because I have a terrible memory, but mostly because I need all these questions answered in one way or another. Yes, need. So, that one page expanded to three, then five, then then and I knew it was seriously stuck in my proverbial “craw”.

I talked with my husband, wrote even more, talked casually to co-workers, wrote even more, talked with my neighbors, my family, the nonprofits around me and wrote tons more.

And then ran into Scott during a lull at work, and sure enough he was thinking at the same time about the same subject. Right. So this is bigger than my little obsessive corner of the world. At least two people are (relatively) on the same page.

He emails me an essay of sorts that a close friend of his wrote about the Municipal wifi initiative in Grand Rapids. I read it, I get pumped. Three people are on the same page. Go.

You should also know that everything in heart says Yes, municipal wifi IS a good thing. And Yes, there is a digital divide in, at least, my community.

So that week I talk more with Scott, we go to lunch, and we know pretty quickly that this is bigger than both our little “craws” can manage to hold. I tell him about one particular instance in the cumulative countless directly related instances in the last five years. I talk about how the Red Cross could cut their costs and processing time for clients in HALF if the city had stable Wifi and the proper devices to use. He literally jumps up and down. I shit you not. He wants to start a wiki, he wants to start a blog about technology and wifi. He wants me to tell my Red Cross story and encourage others to do the same too.

I get really excited, I write more. I write down a list of projects that could be started here with Scott. I start researching other cities, other people who work Municipal wireless plans out for a living, I accumulate a lot of case studies, contacts, benchmarks, get more questions, draw diagrams, learn about how people are using the wifi, collect more links. I’m listing, sketching. I gain momentum here.

It’s important that you know that I wrote down a separate list of projects too, in addition to Scott’s and my list. This list was spawned after my husband and I helped our 12 year old Mexican neighbor get a really good slightly-used laptop from Craig’s List. I thought “Man wouldn’t it be great if we could do this on a large scale?”

Magically, somehow he and I will start this incredible workshop that provides great computers in exchange for like, 10 hours of volunteer time from the client, it would be simply for people who need computers. It’s a great dream.

There would be support, classes, everything is in three languages, we have passionate and dedicated volunteers, a web portal, free wifi, everyone could learn how to build and be able to fix their own computers, there would be a workshop with spare parts, all the machines would run Ubuntu and open office, everyone would get gmail accounts. We’d get national recognition for how awesome we were. We would get grants and have microloan programs set up for families to get printers and digital cameras.

I wrote drafts of a mission statement, (I later posted them here). I made floor plans for the physical presence of this now MAIN project in my head. I got carried away with the exhilarating process of its realization. But I’m beaming with optimism even as I write. I checked out books from the library on starting a nonprofit organization. I read for hours, make cute diagrams of the storefront and workshop, I talked with my brother about his friend in Oregon who does almost the same thing, successfully even.

Then I get an email from Scott that I knew was coming. He says that getting involved in any sort of project would be a distraction for him. I sink. I get angry, I get over it, all in 15 minutes. I’ll explain:

The thing with Scott is that he’s an inspirer. He (lovingly, I know) gets people excited, then seems to drop them into the water by themselves. I think of him now as a cheerleader, it’s an endearing quality, but saddening if you have low self-esteem and are looking for a real comrade in a project. I’m used to this from knowing him for close to five years. So I move on, I can start this by myself, he’s right Again. He’s got a life, I can handle collection of thoughts by myself at his stage. It’s okay. It’s okay.

I write back to him telling him about all of my doubts, thoughts and next steps on our wifi involvement thinking. I tell him about my new project focus.

He writes back expressing his desire to see me succeed in whatever I do, he suggests some next steps. I write talking about what I think I’ll do next, and how I want to talk to the woman in charge of the wifi project here in GR. I think I should talk with more people about more things.

I don’t get this excited about most things. I have, what I have to relearn everyday, are unrealistic expectations about most things. I get dropped hard and often. I want to trust people, but I get let down a lot.

Moments after I write to Scott, I contact and make an appointment to meet up with the person who is running the Municipal Wifi program in Grand Rapids. (I meet with her tomorrow actually. I’m terrified. I usually expect that I’m going to fail so I don’t prepare for things like this. I really should prepare this time. In school I used to over-prepare, but I’d make myself so nervous, that I’d actually do worse. I’m convinced I’ll blow it either way in my head.)

Another lull at work on a bright morning brings one new person into the experimental conversation. I talked myself into speaking to a group of others about this half baked idea.

I got emotional during this conversation, but others listened to me anyways. I talked about my close neighbors from Mexico, my hope for a better Grand Rapids, and involved I.T. guys everywhere, the need for a One Laptop per Child Local Edition, and I learned more about the history of the Grand Rapids Sprint debacle too, I get more perspectives. I was so relieved to hear discussion about this subject outside my own skull. Having more people is always good, so good.

Everyone likes the idea of the laptop workshop, they even like my floor-plan and ID tag sketch… I feel like a pretty big nerd, but I’m in good company.

We were interrupted and needed to go back to work. But now seven people are relatively on the same page. I then started a blog, this blog, while eating my lunch and invited three new people to contribute.

I posted my collections of notes here, I wrote about other cities, other programs. I made some categories, and tagged my posts. I hope that others will feel free to write here, it’s pretty informal really. I hope to be able to format each post a little better, not just link stuff up.

So there it is. That’s the introduction to what you’re reading. Please subscribe to this and comment when you can. I could use the feedback. Is thinking about wifi a good thing? Is starting a digital inclusion workshop a viable and interesting project that you think people here would be interested in participating in?

I’ll keep posting my notes, I have so many pages still to scan in, type up. I already need a volunteer or an intern to help my keep track of the stuff pouring out of my head.

Thanks for tuning and agreeing to taking part in the conversation. Wish me luck on my meeting tomorrow? I’m actually planning on preparing this time…

(I think I’d like to record the audio in some way… I might pick up a tape recorder tomorrow morning before work and ask her if I can capture the meeting.)