ellohay! West Michigan

Article: Was EarthLink’s failed citywide Wi-Fi a blessing in disguise?

Posted in benchmarks, potential problems, wifi by forgr on September 7, 2008

A recent article from Tirana Magazine on Philadelphia’s wi-fi network, the Wireless Philadelphia organization and doing a really solid job on…

Defining the digital divide

There’s been a lot of chatter over the years about the digital divide or the idea that there is a great chasm between people who have access to technology such as computers and the Internet, and those who do not. While some 68 percent of the U.S. population has access to the Internet via broadband or dial-up connections, there are still millions of people across the country who do not have any access at all.

Overwhelmingly, these unconnected individuals tend to be minorities and people with low education levels. A recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that only 57 percent of African Americans and 37 percent of Hispanics have Internet access. And only 29 percent of people who have not graduated from high school are connected to the Internet.

It’s difficult to gauge what the impact of this exclusion means. In the past, Internet access was viewed as an unnecessary luxury, a tool used to send e-mail and casually surf Web sites. But increasingly, the Internet has become an important tool for getting information about and access to just about everything from health care to social services. It’s used as a tool to engage parents in their children’s education. And as newspapers shed their classified listings, it’s become an important tool for looking for jobs.

“Digital inclusion has traditionally been seen as a charity initiative,” The Knight Foundation’s Perry said. “But that is rapidly changing. Increasingly, cities of all types–urban, suburban, and rural–are linking universal digital access to economic development imperatives.”

From the beginning, Wireless Philadelphia’s goal has been to provide broadband service to families who have never owned a computer and have little or no online experience. The group believes that getting these families online will increase their access to educational, employment, and life opportunities.

But it will also have big benefits for the city, such as reducing crime and unemployment, improving public health and social service efficiency, and increasing educational excellence.

“It’s nearly impossible to apply for an entry-level job today without having basic digital skills and Internet access,” Greg Goldman, CEO of Wireless Philadelphia said. “And there have been studies that show patients who access information online about HIV AIDS, hypertension, or diabetes have better health outcomes.”

We’ll find out what happens next quite soon…

Have Your Say for the Future of Philly WiFi, via NTEN

Posted in benchmarks, bookmarks, feedback, wifi by forgr on May 6, 2008

If you live or work in the Philadelphia area, set aside some time on the evening of June 3 for a public forum on the future of wifi in that city.

“The promise of a city where everyone has the potential to be connected, opens new doors for economic, social and political participation.”

Read the full NTEN article here.

Client personas and potential use cases, part two

Photo from flickr-user mstor, for use under creative commons license

Remember Kim? 35, single mother of two, works five days a week as a physical therapist’s assistant from 8 am until 2, English is her second language.

So the question was, ‘What will she do when she gets her new laptop home?’

Kim gets her laptop home and plugs in the power cord (the battery is running low). She feeds the kids dinner, puts in their favorite movie, and sits down on the couch. She picks up her computer, opens the top, and sets in on her lap. She’s never had her own laptop before so she gets a nervous flutter in her stomach when the screen lights up.

The first thing she notices is an alert that there is an open wireless network available, she clicks “OK” and sees that the signal is strong. She then clicks on the internet browser icon in the dock at the bottom of the screen.

When the screen loads, she sees the program page that reads “Welcome to the neighborhood Kim. The Digital Inclusion in Grand Rapids, MI project is happy to see you here again.” She smiles and clicks on the email icon on the page. She’s curious if she has any new mail from her class instructor. She has two new messages, one from her instructor, and another from the program director. She reads both and replies to the one from her instructor, she thanks him for answering her questions in the orientation class earlier that day.

When she goes back to her home page, and project welcome page, she sees that there is an event calendar on the page. It has the class schedules, community events, and hours of the workshop on it. She takes a look at what’s happening next weekend.

Her kids need to get to bed, so she closes her laptop and heads up to get them ready. After they fall asleep, she heads back downstairs to wash the dishes, puts in a load of laundry and turns the tv on. The entire time she’s going thinking about her new laptop, glancing at it when she walks back and forth bringing bowls and glasses from the living room into the kitchen. It’s still slightly foreign to her.

She sits back down again to rest and watch the weather report on tv for tomorrow, she opens up the computer again and looks at the event calendar a little more. She’s more nervous that she thought she would ever be about a piece of technology. She closes the lid and sits back on the couch. Before she goes to bed, she puts the computer on the kitchen table with the folder from the workshop next to it, she’ll read and explore more tomorrow when the kids are at the neighbor’s house.

It’s Sunday afternoon the next time she’s able to get back to her computer again. The signal is strong, the program’s page is welcoming, she has no new emails. She clicks on the icon that reads “Community Resources” as she’s curious about what’s there. There are sections of links divided into different categories, and she looks at all of them. She clicks on local weather and news. The website loads and shows her that it will be raining tomorrow afternoon, she smiles knowing that that sort of information is available whenever she wants it, not just at 10:00 or 11:00 at night when the local station reports it.

She reads more resource links and ends up sitting on the computer for almost three hours. She stretches and rubs her eyes, realizing that she’s spent that much time looking at the screen. She feels more comfortable with her computer though now, and is glad that she’s in the program.

Monday work then a school play, Tuesday work and then her youngest with a high fever. Wednesday she finally gets back to her exploration. She finds YouTube, and Flickr. She sees a website advertised on tv, and for fun, goes there to see what it offers. She experiemetnsregisters for a digital scrapbook class at the workshop. She’s feeling even more confident now.

Collapsing Benchmarks?

Posted in benchmarks, potential problems, wifi by forgr on March 24, 2008

New York Times: Hopes for Wireless Cities Fade as Internet Providers Pull Out

“EarthLink announced on Feb. 7 that ‘the operations of the municipal Wi-Fi assets were no longer consistent with the company’s strategic direction.’ Philadelphia officials say they are not sure when or if the promised network will now be completed.

For Cesar DeLaRosa, 15, however, the concern is more specific. He said he was worried about his science project on global warming.

‘If we don’t have Internet, that means I’ve got to take the bus to the public library after dark, and around here, that’s not always real safe,’ Cesar said, seated in front of his family’s new computer in a gritty section of Hunting Park in North Philadelphia. His family is among the 1,000 or so low-income households that now have free or discounted Wi-Fi access through the city’s project, and many of them worry about losing access that they cannot otherwise afford.”

“Back in Philadelphia, Cesar’s older sister, Tomasa DeLaRosa, said she had faith that city officials would find a way to finish the network and keep her Internet service going.

‘Our whole house is totally different now,’ said Ms. DeLaRosa, 19, who had never had Internet access at home until last December because she could not afford it.

After signing up for a job training program and completing its course work, Ms. DeLaRosa received a free laptop, training and a year’s worth of free wireless service from Esparanza, a community group.

Greg Goldman, chief executive of Wireless Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization that was set up as part of the city’s deal with EarthLink, said that about $20 million had already been spent on the network, and only about $4 million more would be needed to cover the rest of the city.

Mr. Goldman’s organization is responsible for providing bundles that include a free laptop, Internet access, training and technical support to organizations like Esparanza so they can use them as incentives for their low-income clients like Ms. DeLaRosa to complete job training and other programs.

‘For us and a lot of people in this neighborhood,’ Ms. DeLaRosa said, ‘the Internet is like a path out of here.'”

Pilot program initial planning (stages, players, events)

So among other things, there’s quite a bit to think about for a pilot program… And yes, we’re planning on a pilot program. Talking with John Helmholdt from the public school district was inspiring. And even if that connection ends up not panning out, there a many other groups that I’m sure would be receptive to the idea. With that in mind, I write this,

Some initial thoughts on serving a small group of individuals for pilot program,

1. Prep 2. Give 3. Support

Within these stages are potentially 8 or 9 groups that we would need to bring together for this program.
• Geeks (for computer gleaning, clean up, open source os installation etc. at the geek-a-thon)
• Audience/clients (who will receive the laptops, get support, orientation, education)
• Forgr staff (will organize, manage and execute the program pieces and parts, provide orientation to all)
• Educators or existing community education organizations (teachers, professors, instructors that will teach introductory level skills to audience in a group setting and/or one-on-one)
• Tech support staff (will be available for audience to trouble shoot any extreme cases)
• Audience administration (school board, program executive directors etc. that will need to determine goals and parameters, and then accept responsibility’s for supporting program within their institution)
• Facilities (venue for geek-a-thon event, temporary education and support workshop locations)
• Piggy-back organization (existing nonprofit organization that will host our initiative, allow donors to give their laptops and equipment with a tax deductible status)
• Potentially parents and teachers of audience/clients if it’s a classroom environment (these would be extended support system and will need to understand the program’s ins and outs as much as possible)

So, with that in mind, here’s a shot at planning for the first stage of the pilot program:

1. Prep

1a.) Establish a planning committee, meet and come up with plan of action for organizing three part program pieces and parts, who what when where why how. Discuss goals, determine how event might be sponsored, how to recruit volunteers etc. Set our success model for the program.

1b.) Secure a venue for geek-a-thon portion, secure a piggy-back organization, determine rough time-line, secure deductible donation status for donors/geeks, discuss process for client group, secure sponsor.

1c.) Prepare to meet with client group leader, write up targeted business plan and executive statement for client group and/or piggy-back organization.

1d.) Meet with client group leader or board, determine hopes, goals for their group, their anticipated trouble spots, stumbling blocks, determine best course of action to proceed, set rough time line for events.

1e.) Submit any agreement documents with group (if necessary), start building community of educators or participating education facilities for education and support base for client group, discuss plan of action for geek-a-thon event.

1f.) Create program around geek-a-thon. Explore ways spread the word about the geek-a-thon, explore call to action for geeks to glean computers, event details, computer tagging strategy. Collect list of participating educators or community education partners. Finalize time line for all events and launch.

1g.) Check in on sponsor, venue, status, dates, client agreement, piggyback organization, donor. Firm up time line and event schedule for geek-a-thon with all pieces and parts, collect email addresses for all educators, geeks, and volunteers. Draft literature for all groups, client instructions, support materials, feedback forms etc.

1h.) Arrange for entertainment, food, music, tables etc. for geek-a-thon. Design email invitations, posters, signs for geek-a-thon. Make sure everything is covered, on track with all groups. Find facilitator volunteers for geek-a-thon.

1i) Send out invitations to geek-a-thon, write press release for event and contact media for event coverage. Finalize all materials for literature for all audiences.

1j) Collect RSVPs from geeks, collect feedback on idea from geeks. Meet with audience administration (weekly?) and hold pre-orientation/round table with administration, (potentially teachers, parents) on upcoming event and program ins and outs.

1k.) Venue prep for geek-a-thon event day or two ahead. Set up, event dry run with committee, hold volunteer orientation, have FAQ sheet available for volunteers. Tie up loose ends before event. Send out press releases, check back in with press to make sure they are attending (if we want them).

1l.) Hold Geek-a-thon event. Hand out kits to geeks. Get volunteers in place. Answer questions, address immediate needs. Announcements. Register laptops and run through clean up, diagnostics, set up checklists. Determine what parts are missing, needs to bring all machines up to standards. During event solicit feedback, have temporary workshop volunteer sign up sheet/email list and sign up for continuing involvement in program. Enjoy ourselves and do something good together. Collect finished machines. Thank everyone for coming and explain next steps. Collect possible donations.

1m.) Send out thank yous and confirmation to geeks and volunteers from geek-a-thon event. Prep temporary workshop space, get wireless networks set up. Tools, parts, and/or the means to gain. Set up volunteer schedule, hotline for clients, tracking system for incoming machines maintenance. Confirm introductory level education schedule. Tie up any loose ends with groups.

2. Give

2150306305_4ec432b4c8.jpg

Photo from flickr-user elemenous for use under creative common license
2a.) If necessary, hold orientation for potential teachers, parents, administrators. Explain their roles, and provide support for them as extended support team. Collect phone numbers, names addresses of their children/our clients.

2b.) Hold client orientation. Introduce program origins, cover who what when why wheres, address, explain all questions. Tell them how it will work. Have all parties sign ‘promise’ agreement and ‘care and keeping of your new computer’ sheet.

2c.) Bring clients their laptops, literature, FAQs, how tos, what ifs, explain hotline. Hold first education session, set up email accounts, provide educational outlets outside program too. Explain feedback plan. Fill sign up sheet for future classes, sessions. Collect email addresses from all clients. Collect donations?

2d.) Let them take them home, and make sure they stay connected to the program by providing feedback.

3. Support

536550986_d6704b735a.jpg

Photo from flickr-user mugley for use under creative common license

3a.) Collect feedback, hold classes, collect donations, fix broken machines, address problems. Change, adapt, support, grow, learn.

3b.) Host lessons-learned session for geek-a-thon, hardware status, determine if program is on track

3c.) Collect and synthesize incoming feedback. Solicit feedback from parents, teachers. Update program if necessary.

3d.) Hold lessons-learned for orientations, education sessions, workshops, volunteers, facility, hotline, etc.

3e.) Scout for permanent workshop location if necessary, build client database, build website, find more volunteers, find donors, send out regular newsletters. Build, grow, learn, adapt, assist, have energy.

3f.) Reach pilot program success, continue to support clients through their growth and ours.

Phew, so what do we think here, too optimistic, would something like this work? We really want to know, what’s missing?Why do we need your help? Because I’m sitting on my couch, at home, in my pajamas with my headphones in and it’s impossible to coordinate something like this a bubble.

If you’re interesting in jumping in, joining us, and joining the pilot planning and execution committee, email me, or call me at (616) 446-3622, (mobile phone number).

If you’re thinking about helping in other ways, we’d love you for that too. Call, email, drive over to my house, send me a letter. Make contact. We want you.

Other related notes:

Determine next steps after pilot

Meet with committee weekly on progress

Have plan for addressing negative feedback at all stages of the game

Have google group for planning committee to post happenings

Have audience discussion group online, get ichat accounts, meet regularly for required education

Provide laptop to teachers?

Hold Fund-raising events simultaneously

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.