29 Nov Businesses could bridge digital divide in Milwaukee with used computers
Milwaukee, Wis. – Businesses in metropolitan Milwaukee and perhaps throughout Wisconsin will be asked to donate their used computers to advance digital inclusiveness as Milwaukee moves toward completion of its wireless Internet installation.
The City of Milwaukee, having finalized a contract with Midwest Fiber Networks, LLC to build a citywide wireless Internet network, will pursue five goals that are key to bridging the digital divide, including the provision of low-cost or refurbished hardware.
Randy Gschwind, chief information officer for the City of Milwaukee, said the city would try to convince companies, as they go through their technology product lifecycles, to donate new or used desktop computers that would have to be refurbished with wireless cards. He’s also looking into the costs associated with having the
Dells, Hewlett Packards, and Lenovos of the world examine how cheaply they could provide laptops or desktops with wireless cards.
“I’ve been doing some background research on that,” Gschwind said, “so that we don’t have start from zero when the mayor appoints the digital inclusion board.”
The digital inclusion provisions in the city’s contract with Midwest Fiber guarantee free access to 60 yet-to-be-determined websites, mostly government agencies and social service groups, as part of a “Walled Garden.” They also include a $150,000 seed allocation that will go into a contributory fund that would be managed by the digtial inclusion board.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will appoint representatives to the board from the the city, Midwest Fiber, and other organizations.
One potential snag is the lack of a financial incentive for donating used computers. Gordon Meicher, a partner in the Madison accounting firm Meicher & Associates, said by the time business computers are donated, they typically have been depreciated to the point where they don’t qualify for much of a tax deduction.
“All these companies that give computers, 99 percent of them won’t get any deduction at all,” he said.
Bridging the gap
Gschwind said other components of the city’s digital inclusion effort would be to provide free access to a number of websites that help underserved people with specific needs, to provide training and ongoing tech support, and to ensure affordable access.
He said several universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University, have pledged to help make available low-price laptops and desktops. He also said the aforemetioned major computer manufacturers have signaled their support. “Certainly, they are willing to work with us,” he said. “These are big potential markets for these companies.”
Gschwind said the city has not calculated the overall hardware need, but noted that city libraries have hundreds of computers available for training purposes, and that community technology centers could play a role in training and support at the neighborhood level.
Midwest Fiber will invest the $20 million needed for build out, and has begun to install antennas in a demonstration area containing Marquette University. The most common figure identified for the monthly fee that would be charged to residents is $20, but nothing has been finalized.
In addition, Midwest Fiber, a woman-owned company, is in discussions with community groups to set up training and job mentoring programs with the goal of creating job opportunities for minorities and women. The company has said the wireless initiative would enable it to hire 15 to 20 more workers.
The 18-month installation project, which will involve the installation of some 2,500 antennas on light poles and electric poles, is expected to be completed in March of 2008.
Inner city wireless
Campaign Neighborhood, an organization that has developed a five-year inner-city wireless initiative, has expressed concern that the central city will be left behind by a lack of access to hardware and training.
The organization is holding a Nov. 30 symposium titled “Justice – Media, Wireless & You” at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. WTN Media columnist James Carlini will be the keynote speaker, and Gschwind and Milwaukee Alderman Joe Davis also are among the scheduled speakers.
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