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…

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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.'”

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.