Philadelphia tries to bridge the digital divide

Wireless Philadelphia is continuing to raise money and to equip low-income households with computers and broadband. At this point, the non-profit organization created under former Mayor John Street's administration, has only about 700 people signed up.

Wireless Philadelphia is continuing to raise money and to equip low-income households with computers and broadband. At this point, the non-profit organization created under former Mayor John Street's administration, has only about 700 people signed up. The initial goal was to have 1,000 people signed up by June 2007 and 4,000 by June 2008, but obviously EarthLink's difficulty in providing adequate in-building coverage has slowed Wireless Philadelphia's efforts.

Greg Goldman, CEO of Wireless Philadelphia, says he would like to provide service to about 2,800 households in the budget year which ends June 30. That would include 2,000 households getting the full $600 bundle, which includes a PC and broadband service, plus 800 low-income households that already have PCs signing up for the $9.95 a month service.

"Wireless Philadelphia has been successful in terms of fundraising, and seems to be very committed to seeing the project to fruition, in particular with regards to bridging the digital divide," says Datamonitor analyst Ben Madgett.

It recently announced grants from the Samuel Fels Fund for $29,500 and the First Hospital Foundation for $50,000, which are both earmarked to help expand Digital Inclusion services for working families and new or expecting mothers.

"I expect the basic operational costs will remain flat over the next three to five years as the amount of money that we raise increases and then we will be able to devote more to our digital inclusion activities," Goldman says.

In total, Wireless Philadelphia has secured more than $1 million for Digital Inclusion through partners and funders. But, it is clear that the non-profit never imagined that it would be, at this point, working with a partner who is pursuing other interests.

Goldman, however, is undeterred."The digital divide means that today one can't even apply for entry-level employment in hospitals, hotels, universities and retail without Internet access. It means that while 80% of high schoolers require Internet access to complete their assignment each night, less than half of low-income students are connected. Too much has been accomplished for a few bumps in the road to take us off course."

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