And Access For All

.. And Access For All

An app similar to Connect Philly won’t work in an area where a family does not own a car and does not have easy access to public transportation.”

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Eastern State Penitentiary – Philadelphia, PA

Google has recently announced that it is providing free WiFi within a 10 block area of its Manhattan office in the Chelsea neighborhood. I’m happy that a company such has Google is being a good corporate citizen by providing a direct benefit to residents within that radius, but I can’t help to reflect on other failed attempts in areas where people are less fortunate that the ritzy Chelsea neighborhood. My hope is that efforts like this can serve as a launching pad to provide internet access to areas of this city (and other cities) that are less fortunate.

I lived in Harlem for a few years, and the line for computer access in the local libraries was always long. I would work with my laptop near the public computers, and I often saw people, young and old, leave the line out of frustration. Many of them could be overheard talking about submitting resumes for job opportunities, watching videos about subjects of interest, etc. – simple things that can’t be easily done on a mobile phone and many of us take for granted.

In addition to New York, other cities have explored the feasibility of offering free WiFi to citizens. In my current city of Philadelphia, the city signed a deal with EarthLink which failed spectacularly when EarthLink announced cuts to their work force. Philadelphians are left with a half-finished zombie network that was quickly de-prioritized when the economic realities of the recession took hold. Today, Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia promotes an app “Connect Philly” that helps people find free WiFi spots. This is a nice stopgap solution, but it still does not do enough to offer access to those that truly need it.

New York and Philadelphia are examples that I’ve been personally exposed to, but even they have the benefit of a city connected with public transportation. Many other areas of the country require cars to get around, and have weak or non-existent bus services. An app similar to Connect Philly won’t work in an area where a family does not own a car and does not have easy access to public transportation.

The narrative of our government for the past few years has been about improving communities to provide jobs. Enabling access to the internet to everyone would go a long way in achieving this goal.

Screen shot 2013-01-14 at 12.15.25 PMShareef Jackson is a guest blogger for #wethedata who tweets via @ShareefJackson and blogs at about science, tech & life. #ScienceLooksGood

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