Just as New Yorkers are getting used to the idea that
we can check e-mail and surf the Internet for free
from Bryant Park, winter storms chased city residents
and their laptops indoors until Spring. But, thanks
to a number of new wireless technology projects, more
and more New Yorkers have wireless access to the Internet for free
The largest of these projects is run by the New
York Public Library. Now, more than 50 branches are offering free wireless
Internet access to anyone with a laptop or other wireless device (such as a
personal digital assistant). But, the library warns, the network is not secure
and staff cannot provide technical assistance.
an affordable housing non-profit agency that caters to people with psychiatric
disabilities, is trying out another, albeit much smaller project. This month,
45 residents of a Community Access building on Avenue D got a new wireless network.
City Councilmember Margarita Lopez, who represents the
East Village, has been a strong advocate for mentally
ill New Yorkers. She says of the project, "I have
worked with Community Access for over 25 years, and I
applaud them for their efforts to give people with
low-income access to technology and the advantages
that it provides."
The network, which started as an experiment, cost three thousand dollars for
equipment and, after months of planning, took only four hours to install with
the help of about a dozen NYCwireless
volunteers who spent their afternoon in the Avenue D building.
In preparation for the project, Dustin Goodwin and Olivia Given of NYCwireless
recruited a team of volunteers
who were trained in a three and a half hour session which they paid fifty dollars
each to attend. The rationale for charging volunteers for the training session
was to find committed, responsible volunteers who can take on additional projects
in the future. This group formed the core team that will provide technical support
for the Community Access project.
Now, the goal is to provide more computers to the
building's residents in the coming months so that they
can take advantage of the network. While residents
already had one shared computer prior to the
installation of the wireless network, there were
problems with frequent breakdowns and a lack of
technical support. Community Access hopes to get
computers for a quarter of the residents through
donations over the next six months.
"Technology is the easy part," said Joshua Auerbach, a
member of the Community Access Board of Directors and
a Vice President at AOL Time Warner. "The human side
is much more difficult."
Steve Coe, executive director of Community Access,
believes that the project might help residents
communicate and build a sense of community as well as
gain access to vital job and metal health information
online. Until recently, many residents were prevented
from working due to financial penalties on their
Medicaid benefits. But, now that they can work, they
need ways to access job listings, many of which are
exclusively posted online.
If this project is successful, it is likely that
wireless networks will be installed at other Community
Access buildings in the Lower East Side,
East Village, Washington Heights and Brooklyn.
Another organization with its eye on providing wireless Internet access is
the Lower Eastside Girls Club.
"The Girls Club sits right on the edge of the digital divide, between the prosperous
areas of the East Village and the housing projects," said David Pentecost, a
technology consultant who works with the organization.
The Girls Club is planning to build a new building on
Avenue D that will share wireless Internet access with
the surrounding community. This project could take
years to complete but the hope is that by the time the
building is finished, new technologies called mesh
networking will make it even easier to share Internet
These new wireless projects are a sign of slow but
significant change in the non-profit community.
Currently, there is more awareness that engineers,
architects and technology professionals need to work
together to develop affordable housing with advanced
technology.Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.
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