2014 Goals to Close the Digital Divide

APRIL 14, 2014



Internet access brings with it a chance to apply for jobs online, connections with family and friends, information about medical and health issues, online education – GED completion and college courses – and a whole lot more.  These are resources that can help under resourced families move toward a healthier, happier and more secure future. While in-home access is definitely the “gold standard,”  we are working to make sure that everyone, regardless of their incomes, has easy access to the resources available online.

1) More training to get new Internet users online. Last year over 1,000 people in under resourced urban neighborhoods participated in our free digital life skills classes. We are now operating two training centers, one in Kansas and one in Missouri, which will enable us to reach twice as many this year. Besides those who are challenged economically, we are also bringing this training to senior citizens and the disabled. And, we have begun teaching digital literacy instructional skills to the staff members of other nonprofit organizations, churches and civic groups. Those who complete classes they sponsor will also be able to purchase one of our high quality refurbished computer systems for as little as $50.00.


2) Increased capacity to produce low cost refurbished PCs. In the last few months, we significantly upgraded our computer refurbishing facilities at 3101 Troost in Kansas City, MO with new walls, shelves, workbenches, and a new heating system. Most importantly, improvements were made to the electrical system so it can handle an increased demand for power. We now have a full-time manager of the refurbishing program. In 2013, we placed 600 inexpensive refurbished computers into the homes of low income Kansas City families. With a more efficient workshop and a growing core of dedicated volunteers, we will produce at least 200 units per month in 2014. To keep pace with this demand, we will be reaching out to the community, businesses, and government agencies to provide us with used desktops and laptops to use in this program.


3) More families reached through our new community technology center. Last month, regular programming started at the Northeast Wyandotte County Community Technology Center. Our second facility is located across the street from the Juniper Gardens public housing complex. In partnership with the Kansas City Kansas Housing Authority, we maintain a 20 seat public access computer lab in one of their facilities. Free digital life skills classes are currently offered twice a week and we have three full-time staff members stationed there. With help from summer interns, we are planning programs to reach out to youth in this area. We are already seeing a growing number of teens and preteens using the facility during open lab hours. This center is a model that can be used to reach other under resourced neighborhoods where in-home Internet access is very low. By the end of 2014, we hope to have plans in place to expand this concept to other parts of the Kansas City area.

posada-tower4) Expanded connectivity in urban core neighborhoods by growing the community wireless network. As a nonprofit wireless ISP, we are providing free in-home Wi-Fi Internet connections to over 500 low income households. Most of them are in three housing projects; Juniper Gardens, Rosedale Ridge and Posada del Sol. We also provide wireless Internet to the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District and the corner of 31st & Troost.

Last year, working with the Free Network Foundation, we produced three feasibility studies for a local school district, a community development organization, and the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, which is one of the KC Chamber’s Big 5 initiatives. These studies covered some of Kansas City Missouri’s most needy neighborhoods in the Swope Corridor and the Troost Corridor, areas where up to 80% of households do not have in-home Internet access.

In partnership with local organizations and people who live in these communities, we will be installing additional microwave towers and neighborhood mesh networks to extend the reach of the Kansas City Freedom Network. The model we are using is an Internet co-operative, not unlike a food co-op, where members build and own their piece of the network. We will seek some outside funding to build the infrastructure but we are looking for significant involvement from those who will ultimately become end users of this service. While this is a very unique model, we believe it is the one that has the greatest probability for long-term sustainability. It is being executed successfully around the world, especially in places like Spain, Germany, Greece and Argentina.

This summer, we hope to create a demonstration wireless project, a “living laboratory,” in one of these inner city neighborhoods. An educational effort with the FNF and other community partners will focus on teaching residents of the urban core, especially young people, how to build, maintain and expand the network. We believe this will plant the seed for organic growth as residents see the opportunity to gain Internet access and develop a digital community for a fraction of the cost of current service options.

Our work will continue with low income families living in Kansas City’s multi-family public housing and Section 8 properties. Besides strengthening the networks we’ve already built, we are looking for additional properties where we can make an impact. We are also providing assistance to nonprofit organizations with affordable IT support and low cost refurbished computers. Computer sales and other self-generated IT-related income will make up at least one third of our income in 2014. For the rest of it our budget, we will continue to rely on individual donations and grant support.

In all of these activities, Connecting for Good has endeavored to include partner agencies in order to strengthen their digital inclusion efforts.  Local nonprofit and civic organizations we’ve worked with include:

Black Economic Union
Black Family Technology Association
Blue Hills Community Services
Church of the Resurrection – Geeks for God
Code for America
Dave’s Place
W.E.B.DuBois Learning Center
Green Impact Zone
Hispanic Economic Development Corporation
Ivanhoe Neighborhood Association
Kansas City Kansas Housing Authority
Kansas City Kansas Public Library
Kansas City Public Library
Kansas City Public Schools
KC Digital Drive
Literacy Kansas City
Metro Lutheran Ministries
Mutual Musicians Foundation
Palestine Neighborhood Association
Rosedale Development Association
Reconciliation Services
Shepherd Centers
Surplus Exchange
Troost Alliance
Upper Room/Swope Renaissance
Urban Neighborhood Initiative
Urban League of Kansas City
Westside Housing
YMCA of Greater Kansas City

Written by Tom Esselman

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