ellohay! West Michigan

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 Catherine Ettinger

Usually when I get to tell someone new about this project, initially there is skepticism. Then I explain the structure and the elements built in for sustainability, there is optimism.

My conversation with Catherine, president of Foxbright (here in Grand Rapids) was a little different. She wasn’t pessimistic per se, but she wasn’t exactly beaming. I contacted her after listening to her podcasts “Inside Grand Rapids”, and read her About page that expressed great interest in learning about new and existing projects making a difference in the city.

Her studio develops websites for schools, nonprofits, social organizations and regular profit businesses too. Hospice, Goodwill, Phoenix Society among other are some of her company’s clients.

So, we met and talked downtown on Friday during lunch.

Some condensed, paraphrased, versions of her statements, questions, comments:
• Internet access is essential to this programs’ success, the wiMax program will be important
• Relying on a third party to provide internet access (which is integral to the program) is not a great thing
• Education is going to be difficult, people don’t like learning past a certain age, it’s going to be a challenge to get people to be receptive
• You can solve data loss issues with thumb drives, people use those all the time
• You won’t be able to give 24 hour support, staffing that is going to be nearly impossible
• Laptops, not desktop computers. Portable, small, strong tech devices
• Getting technology will be no problem at all
• The pilot program sounds good, kids in the same neighborhood is an optimal situation
• Eventually you’re going to need storefronts or workshops all over the city, coverage similar to the public library and their branches
• People will need to be able to walk to your locations as transportation is a major issue
• You could probably use those rooms at the public for some of the classes
• Security is going to be a big issue for people, build in a strong base in the program, because in this day and age…
In short, it was great to talk with her, she had some fantastic feedback, and comments about logistics, practices.

It was also good to hear about her perspective as a parent, she has two young boys at home who she personally wants to educate about the internet and technology herself. It sounded like she wouldn’t need the program for her kids.

She acknowledged that while she and her children have the resources and skills to harness the power of those tools, that not everyone in our community has the same advantages.

If I understood her correctly, over-all she thinks this program is a good idea and it could really work.

She expressed that she’d like to stay in the conversation as well.

Catherine, you bring a unique perspective to the table, you’re a mom, a small business owner, and a strong, intelligent voice in the community.

Thank you for the conversation, and we hope to hear from you soon (and yes, once we get this pilot program off the ground, I’d like very much to be a guest on your podcast, thank you for the invitation).

For everyone reading here, please poke holes, and keep those comments coming. Thanks and cheers.

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.

Implementing Municipal Wifi in Minneapolis

Posted in wifi by forgr on February 5, 2008

MuniWireless Resources

Posted in wifi by forgr on February 5, 2008

A pretty good site dedicated to Municipal Wireless, this page has multiple resources… case studies, white papers, webcasts, podcasts.

MuniWireless.com, Resources

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