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Community Access to Planning

The five speakers addressed different aspects of a community's access to the Internet and specifically WiFi.

Catherine Settanni from Digital Access http://www.digitalaccess.org

β€œTo communicate in the post-modern society is the power to interact with networks of information.
It is not sufficient to have a free mind, if our words cannot circulate like the words of others.β€?
--Sergio Amadeu de Silva (e-government director, San Paulo Brazil)

Settanni's message directly addressed the issue of the digital divide, an issue that will not be solved by cheap wireless access. There are issues of computer training, equipment maintenance, and others that prevent access. She stresses the ABCs of digital inclusions β€” Access, Basic tech literacy skills, Content that the audience wants/needs.

Settanni is part of a volunteer collaboration because of the opportunity to broaden the conversation about wireless access to leverage low-cost wireless access so that digital inclusion is possible.

John Richard, Waite House Neighborhood Center
Sarah Koschinska, Project for Pride in Living

Richard and Koschinska are both engaged with the community on a daily basis through their work, seeing first hand many of the barriers to access. They reiterated Settani's assertion that access, basic computer skills, and content are all components to problems and solutions. Richard foresees potential issues as more content that is needed by consumers goes online as well as employment seeking where 75-80% of applications must be completed online and/or including requirements for an email address.
Richard and Koschinska are part of the South Minneapolis Technology Collaboration that is working toward: 1)Pulling the community tech providers together to pool resources; 2)Getting awareness of digital issues to city officials/community groups/neighborhood groups; 3)Forming a neighborhood technical advisory board to tell their group what is needed.

Koschinska has found that awareness of the digital divide was not widely understood, even to people that considered themselves long-time community activists.

Dave DeMuth, University of Minnesota: Crookston, Resident of the City of Moorhead

Professor DeMuth communicated his interpretation of why rural communities need online access and specifically why wireless makes sense for those communities. He argues that wireless is an essential service, much like electricity, water, heat, telephone, and weather radio (an especially important service up in rural Minnesota).

Wireless makes sense because hard wiring old infrastructure is costly. It also allows mobility which in turn allows connectivity. He provides a quick example of being able to take a call or check email while on the move (whether it be the grocery store or the golf course) β€” not to mention the time that could be saved commuting.

DeMuth sees his students engaged in gaming, social networking, shopping, mapping, etc. and thinks that wireless communities could help stop the drain of these minds out of rural Minnesota. He admits that he would probably not have moved himself to Crookston had it not been for high-speed access.

Terri Thao tthao@plcp.org

Thao shared her experiences of being on the St. Paul Broadband Advisory Committee (BAC).
Starting with a small phone survey of the public commissioned by the Mayor, her committee found that enhanced broadband would bring about opportunities to improve affordability of basic broadband. They set out to: 1)Make mobile broadband available throughout the city; 2)Improve fiber infrastructure; 3) Improve city service delivery.

She admits that the process has not been without its problems, but that it has also been rewarding. They struggle with community input and getting meaningful conversations to happen between diverse groups (community vs. tech). The process is ongoing, dealing with complex policy issues, but she has found many benefits to becoming involved in the discussion.