On June 23, 2009, seemingly another sunny day in Philadelphia, Sascha Meinrath and Dan Meredith, respectively Open Technology Initiative Director and Technologist, disembarked from Amtrak at the 30th Street Station. Heading to an event organized by Media Mobilizing Project to discuss expanding broadband and digital literacy in the city, the meeting would spark a year long effort resulting in a $6.4 million grant award for the City of Philadelphia for public computer centers.
Open Technology Initiative staff are no strangers to connectivity in Philadelphia, Senior Field Analyst Josh Breitbart had previously written The Philadelphia Story, chronicling the failed initiative for a wireless network between the City and Earthlink. The new effort was focused on helping the City of Philadelphia and community organizations apply for broadband stimulus funding.
As part of the 2009 Stimulus Act, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress appropriated $7.2 Billion for broadband initiatives. City of Philadelphia Chief Technology Officer Allan Frank pushed hard for first round funding, but due to an August deadline and little time to organize and submit proposals, the bids were unsuccessful.
With a second round of funding for infrastructure, public computer center, and sustainable broadband adoption efforts announced in March 2010, the City, the Free Library of Philadelphia and community organizations and government departments including Philadelphia FIGHT, Media Mobilizing Project, Philadelphia Recreation Department, Peoples Emergency Center, Philadelphia OIC, some of whom were involved in the first round attempt, joined forces for another try at funding.
The Open Technology Initiative (OTI), national experts on the broadband stimulus opportunity, returned to Philly to assist in the second round effort. Providing technical, grant writing, and policy support, OTI helped guide three applications through political and policy hurdles. Lead by Dan Meredith, who all but moved to Philadelphia to assist in the applications, one of the projects was awarded and the other two are still under consideration.
Announced on July 2, 2010, the City will receive $6.4 million to enhance 77 public computer centers with over 800 new workstations. This project will greatly expand digital literacy in North, West and South Philadelphia to reach over 14,500 of the most vulnerable residents of the City each week. Bryan Mercer of Media Mobilizing Project explains: "This is an exciting opportunity to connect communities across the city to the most important communication tool of our time. Internet access is an essential step to solving the problems our city is facing in this economy.”
The award will expand capacity at 19 recreation centers, 10 homeless shelters and 15 other affordable housing sites, 29 community-based organization sites working with high-risk populations, and 4 mobile computing labs.
This award will make significant impact on the partner organizations. As Philadelphia FIGHT Director Jane Shull explains:
For us at FIGHT this award is especially meaningful because it comes on the 10th anniversary of the death of Kiyoshi Kuromiya, a longtime AIDS and Internet activist, whose legacy to this community includes the Critical Path AIDS Project. For nearly 20 years, Critpath has been providing free Internet services to people affected by the AIDS epidemic. That includes many who, because of poverty, would not otherwise be able to access and utilize broadband. Kiyoshi believed the Internet should be widely available, and that access should be free. This project, which will enable low income people all over Philadelphia to gain access to broadband, and also to learn the skills they need to take advantage of it, will allow FIGHT to fulfill the mission that Kiyoshi called us to during his life, and that he urged us to continue after his death. Before he died, Kiyoshi told us that he knew that conditions would change, and he hoped we would respond to those changes and change with them. Kiyoshi’s charge to us was to continue to improve accessibility and maintain the quality of information on the Internet. This project will allow us to take a dramatic leap in doing both.
Two additional proposals in Philadelphia supported by OTI, and more throughout the country, are currently under consideration by grant administrators the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.