Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Low-income Housing Goes Wireless

The technician sat by the apartment window with a laptop on his knees, configuring the computer to pick up the Internet signal from a rooftop antenna a half a block away.

"How's the signal?" asked the apartment's resident, Nakia Keizer, watching from a sofa.

"Not bad," said Kevin Bowen, the technician.

Not bad at all, considering this wireless "hotspot" was intended not for cafe-hoppers and Internet surfers with money to burn but for urban poor who only a few years before had been fighting roof leaks and overflowing sewers.

Camfield Estates, a rebuilt 102-unit public housing development, has trimmed bushes and groomed grounds. What also sets it apart from other low-income complexes lies hidden behind its walls, atop its roof and in the airwaves.

For the past two years, Camfield has been the site of a project aiming to span the "digital divide" between impoverished Americans and those with easy access to technology.

Called the Creating Community Connections Project, it has given residents free computers to connect to the Internet using high-speed cable lines wired into every home.

Residents gather at a community computer room to take free classes on everything from how to plug in a mouse to setting up Web sites.

The project, mostly paid for with a $200,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation and supported by companies like Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft as well as public and nonprofit entities, is now taking another step.

Now that Camfield's Internet provider has ended its two-year commitment to offer discounted cable modem access, the project's organizers will soon give residents the option of replacing their wired Internet access with a wireless connection.

Lucky complex. Well, that's one...(To read more, click the title)