Low-Income Families & the Digital Opportunity

By Robert Bole of Portland, Oregon. Robert is Vice President of One Economy in the Northwest, which works to help low-income families take advantage of technology to enter into the economic mainstream.

Today the role of technology is inescapable in our daily lives and plays a vital connection to our world; to our families and friends; to our communities. A 2004 study reported that 88% of Americans use the Internet in their daily lives, and one-third said that it played a major role in their daily routines.

Technology has become so ingrained in the way we work, live and play that we only really notice it when our email goes down or our computer goes on the fritz. However, for low-income Oregonians, the digital divide is a daily struggle and not just some esoteric policy discussion.

Imagine in your daily life if you were required to leave your home, catch a bus and wait in line at the local library to get your email. In our busy lives, low-income families have one hand tied behind their back because of the extra time doing basic daily tasks, or worse they just don't get to them because they do not have the access to technology that the rest of us have.

Our human service system was established to help the poor, yet aggravates the problem by treating people as passive recipients of services. Families are expected to be grateful as they shuffle into offices, fill out endless paperwork, wait for their overworked case managers and receive the same support that everyone else receives, no matter their particular abilities, opportunities or circumstances.

With the rise of the technology in the private sector there has been a rush to apply the same productivity gains to government, or eGovernment. However, we are in danger of eGovernment projects simply replicating the monotonous handing of social services online that large bureaucratic systems do offline. A primary reason? eGovernment systems are conceived and built for the ease and comfort of the staff, not the customer.

Instead, the State of Oregon's goal ought to be to help the poor to become better informed and engaged consumers of services. We have the opportunity to use technology to assist families to receive customized support from the comfort and convenience of their own homes. We must transform from an industry producing 'human service widgets' to providing online tools for families to guide their own growth.

An obvious starting place is providing affordable, high-speed computer and Internet access. We are lucky that the Northwest is one of the most wired regions in the country. A 2002 report found that 66% of Northwest residents were online. The Northwest's advantage of families being online extends to low-income residents as well. The same report found that for families earning under $30,000 a year, 47 percent were online, as compared to 38 percent nationally.

However, if you are black, Hispanic, Native American, an older adult, disabled, or under the poverty line, the ability to access technology changes dramatically. In Oregon, we need more equitable distribution and more affordable access to the Internet and there are several groups working on this challenge such as Free Geek, Centro Cultural's Adelante Con Tecnologia project and One Economy (Full disclosure: I am the vice president of One Economy.)

Unfortunately, access alone is not enough to leverage the power of the Internet for low-income families. Getting people online is a critical first step. But once online, they have to be able to find and utilize the information they need.

A part of the answer lies in the rich, entrepreneurial efforts of a new class of community leaders who are engaged with the idea that technology is a tool that can make a fundamental difference in the way we fight poverty. They are creating content-rich, multilingual Web sites that provide users with a resources to take positive action on the things that matter most in their lives ' money, health, jobs, school and family.

These sites include the international award-winning Oregon Helps that allows families to enter in demographic information and find federal and state benefits they are eligible for by county, such as food stamps, energy assistance and disability insurance. Also Housing Connections, another award winner, that allows families looking for housing to search against a database of over 50,000 units of affordable rental units. And finally, One Economy's own Beehive, an online portal that helps families build assets in order to start a career, improve their money management skills and find health care resources in their local community.

Beyond these community efforts the State must broaden its vision of how technology can play an essential role in fighting poverty. We must move beyond the notions of public computer centers and fiber rings as an adequate technology policy. A true technology policy enhances the ability of all Oregonians to improve their daily lives and acquire the necessary resources for them to move up and out of poverty.

First, the State must use the creativity and dedication of our citizenry to enhance Oregon's technology efforts. State agencies, including the Department of Administrative Services, must make sure that there is strong community representation included in the State's deliberations eGovernment projects, such as on the CIO Council or within the Information Resources Management Division (IRMD).

Next, State agencies must increase their use of the Internet to provide services to residents with more cross-agency collaboration. For example the Department of Human Services and Housing and Community Services can work in conjunction to deliver online services together. They are serving the same customers, who in their daily lives, don't distinguish between their 'human service' barrier and their 'housing' barrier. Truly innovative strategies will break down the silos of education, workforce development, healthcare, and financial support and will build an integrated approach where citizens can use tools and resources that are just as sophisticated as their real life barriers.

Lastly, and most importantly, the State of Oregon must develop a long-term vision for the use of the technology providing opportunities to our citizens. This vision must extend outward from just a pure government approach to include real collaboration with local governments, community efforts and even individual citizens.

The Internet is a malleable and transparent tool that does not need to conform to the boundaries of staffing structures and geography. If the best homeowner information is in Bend, why shouldn't the people of Redmond benefit? If Community Action of Washington County does a great job at helping families move out of poverty, why shouldn't DHS incorporate their 'content' into their online support systems? Without a clear vision of what technology can do in Oregon there is a fundamental question of what all the current taxpayer dollars going to eGovernment add up to do.

Oregon values the advantages of our knowledge economy, but for our state to become truly innovative, we must move beyond the simplification of it's a problem of the Digital Divide. The media world declares that 'Content is King,' and it is high time for our state and its leaders to listen closely to the demands of both the marketplace and the community.

  • (Show?)

    Part of the problem is that the state is so woefully behind on its own wired integration. The child welfare agency uses this 1980s program for entering and tracking family data--it crashes all the time and is notorious for its opacity. I don't know much about the self-sufficiency side of things, but since it was only recently married to child welfare, I'm guessing they don't talk well to each other. And the courts use an entirely different system.

    I haven't a clue why we don't improve these systems--but this must be a big part of the problem. Thoughts?

  • (Show?)

    My pet peeve is that I live 4 miles from the dead center of Silverton, 1/10 of a mile off a main state highway running north toward Molalla, and despite numerous pitches in the mail, I cannot get DSL or any high speed. Can you hear me now, Verizon?

    Little Mt.Angel Telephone Company, serving homes just across the main highway put in DSLAMs and serves their rural clients, but Verizon won't. Can you hear me now, Verizon.

    I've heard, but have not been able to confirm, that Qwest is providing it in the hinterlands of Marion County. Verizon, can you hear me now?

    I admittedly don't know the details, but 2 or 3 sessions ago a deal was struck with the telephone companies that was supposed to bring about high speed access in rural Oregon...and here, almost in the shadows of the Capitol in rural Marion County, you can't get high speed access from Verizon.

    And calls to the PUC are futule - "not my job" is what the Chair essentially told me.

    Yeah, "ma bell, she's got you by the calls."

  • (Show?)

    Data released today:

    According to Oregon Population Survey data released today, [http://www.das.state.or.us/DAS/OPB/docs/BdUp05/Jan/OPSpress.doc],78 percent of Oregon households have computers, and 69 percent have internet access. Less than half (45%) of those with Internet access have high-speed access (or if you are the rosy-eyeglassed Oregon Progress Board "nearly half") have high speed access.

    When the Progress Board and DAS release the actual data then folks can analyze the extent to which this new data shows the divide by income group. The summary report does not address the issue.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    Jeez! What a huge hunk of bureaucrat speak.

    BTW, the 88 percent of Americans having home Internet access figure is inaccurate. It comes from a survey of selected users of certain ISPs. (I blogged this, but don't have the URL at hand.) Anyone looking at it should be skeptical, though. Previous studies, including Pew's, have said about 43 percent of Americans did not have home access as recently as 2003. A more reliable figure for current home use is about 69 percent, as Chuck said above. I've also seen 63 percent. Some more information:

    1) Non-users either can't afford access (majority) or choose not to have home access to the Internet (minority). In earlier studies, dropouts from the Internet were less than 10 percent of non-users.

    2) The proportion of users increases if one adds out of the home locations, such as work, school, public libraries. But, such access is only available doing day hours, most of the time. So, when a low-income child needs to do his homework for example, he doesn't have access.

    3) There is a correlation between income and home Internet access. It is three-tiered. Those who can afford it tend to have T1, cable or DSL. The next group has dial-up. The remainder don't have home Internet access. National studies now say about half of subscribers have high speed Internet. The cutting edge has moved to WiFi and the wired home.

    4) I have only seen one program that actually provided much help to low-income people needing computers or Internet access. It was part of a legal settlement and provided free laptops to people who went through a lengthy paperwork process. Free Geek relies on the prejudiced assumption that the poor are lazy. They must put in hours of work for Free Geek before being given an old computer using -- believe it or not -- Linux. Not exactly something that can be carried over to the mainstream. Having grown up poor, I suspect most members of its potential audience know they are being insulted and pass on that bit of patronization. I am not familiar with One Economy, but suspect it might be smoke and mirrors, too.

    5) Most of the "award winning" online services being touted do the same thing phone referral services do. And, they are less available to low-income people because of the target demographic's lower access to the Internet. They are not providing anything new, just replacing what is already available.

    The low-income and minorities get the short end of the stick in most things. That is also true of the Internet access and unlikely to change.

  • (Show?)

    "Free Geek relies on the predjudiced assumption that the poor are lazy."

    Those hours of work are how those old computers are made usable. Seems to me what Free Geek relies on is that people in general, poor people included, are willing to work to create and receive something of value.

    The Linux crack ought to get a good rise out of the resident cadre of open source zealots. Free Geek computers aren't about getting vocational training in using MS Word. Those boxes allow one to do email, create documents and surf the Internet. That's all about 98% of computers ever get used for no matter what OS they run or how much they cost.

    You aren't familiar with One Economy but suspect it may be smoke and mirrors anyway? Now who exactly is engaging in flaming prejudging?

    One Economy helped 400 low income families in North Portland buy new comupters at a steep discount a year or so ago. It seems to me they are genuinely trying to make a difference. I don't know how much difference they will ultimately make but I am firmly of the belief that the best way to find out what works is to try things and see what happens. At the very least, they are doing that.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    I would like to see some proof of the presently anecdotal claims by One Economy. In its online literature, I saw allegations of 100 to 500 families it supposedly helped get Internet access, by wiring the complexes they live in. I did not see any concrete claim of helping people acquire computers at all. There is a reference to Gateway providing low-income people in one housing development entry level computers at a slight discount from their typical $400 or so. But, who knows how Gateway might have recouped the difference? It is not even clear whether the computers were new or refurbished. Ditto for AT & T Broadband. What is it getting in return? Maybe it will charge higher than the norm for access after the six-month low-cost introduction. Furthermore, why are people supposedly concerned about costs promoting cable, which is more expensive than DSL? A news and information search brings up press releases by One Economy praising itself, but not much in the way of news or information from objective sources. What I see is a company creating an <u>impression</u> that is doing great things about the Digital Divide, but not much to back it up.

    I also looked at the 'Ghetto on the Web' One Economy promotes, called Beehive. It funnels people away from having a full Internet experience to a portal that is suited to some bureaucrat's notion of what is good for the poor and/or minority. Beehive also touts certain businesses, though it is not clear whether One Economy is paid for doing so. For example, Allstate Insurance is promoted. Is that because it pays One Economy to promote it to users, though it may not offer them the best deals on insurance?

    I am also curious about the tax situation. Often, a non-profit will be set up by a corporations to reduce taxes on their very much for profit business. The non-profit arm really doesn't do much else. What other businesses is One Economy related to?

    Other people, including Doretta, are definitely entitled to their opinions of organizations such as Free Geek. Having come from the very backgrounds such groups supposedly help, I've learned to be very skeptical of them. Claims of any kind of meaningful assistance to the poor are often false, or feel good sops for the people making them. I would cite Free Geek as an example. Its members get a kick out of using Linux. But, people who genuinely gave a hoot would not impose such an arcane operating system on novices. I've had several people I directed to the program before I learned not to come back and say they found the Free Geek computers worthless. I agree that their time would have been better spent working a few extra hours to buy a newer computer and software they could use to improve their skills. I also think that truly helpful programs are income-based. The built-in notion that the poor don't have their own work to do, including jobs and child-rearing, is very telling.

    I happened across someone who is also raising an eyebrow about One Economy at Daily Wireless. He is wondering about whether this supposedly charitable organization is really doing anything charitable or just another profit-oriented business. Read "Cashing in on the Digital Divide" here. Excerpt:

    One-Economy collaborates with a portal called BeeHive which wants users to bank with them and use their portal services. But, really, how is it going to lower costs? I think it's just a racket.

    I encourage people to read what that person has to say. I found it more informative than the entry we are commenting on.

  • Aaron (unverified)

    I say to support the increase of funding for community libraries to help bridge the digitial and information divide in low-income areas, as well for those smaller cities(greater than 1000 residents) around the state. As well, going to the libraries would be a good family day outing and that is a good thing.

  • Jon (unverified)

    I applaud the effort, but please dont make people beleive that having a computer is required to live yet it today's society. It purely a luxury item, and hardly an entitlement. As for "low-income" kids having access...they go to public school right? I have yet to see a public school that doesnt have at least one room full of computers they can get access to. Hell, my son's middle school has THREE rooms of computers. And before anyone mentions unequal school funding, lets all remember the state of Oregon requires equal funding. I have seen complete computers for sale over the years locally by private folks for as low as $50 that are quite operational. And new ones made with current technology as low as $400.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    Aaron and Jon, I'm leaning in your direction. Better that people use public computers or buy used ones on their own than get sucked into schemes that may actually cost them money they can hardly afford.

    After looking at One Economy's portal, Beehive, more, I've more skeptical than before. If, say, a low-income mother is persuaded to make various purchases from business promoted on that site, she will increase her debts. Since users are funneled to Beehive, there is no incentive to price compare. The person buying into the promoted ISP, insurance company or bank would be better served by the full Internet, where information on competitors is available.

    BTW, it appears I was right about the cable modem service. Called AT & T and asked them. After a low introductory rate, the price balloons to market or higher in three to six months. A great deal for AT & T, but not necessarily for the consumers. $60 per month is not peanuts for a low-income family.

  • Aaron (unverified)

    I was not going to rip on the post—but I decided to do.

    Robert, You groups ideology and goals are a waste of time and resources, I will give you two reasons:

    1. Hunger—the need to remove the slight to chronic hungry epidemic from the low-income families, with or without children, in school; supersedes the desire for internet connectivity and a computer. If someone is malnourished, these individuals, and their children; are not going to be thinking that the internet or a computer is going to feed them.
    2. Living wage jobs—the need to make ends meet yet again supersedes the desire for internet connectivity and a computer. If someone is scraping by to meet the monthly needs; they should not be wasting $10/month for dialup(juno/netzero) or upwards of what Mac Diva stated in the previous post is at least 3 times that much for Cable/DSL.

    Nevertheless, you say, “Children can learn with the internet.” I say, “Can you truly learn when you only have one good meal a day, maybe; when you are growing up.” Then, you say, “Individuals can take classes or read, from the internet; to improve the situation of low paying wage.” I say, “Yes, I know this; but there are work training programs for them thru various government agencies and non-profits, that cost from nothing to a slight fee; that can provide a greater chance of them getting better paying jobs.”

  • JJ Ark (unverified)

    Point of Fact:

    It isn't AT&T. Its Comcast. AT&T sold their broadband operation to Comcast about 2 years ago.

    Freegeek does a good service, Diva. The fact that your referrals didn't wish to take to the time to learn the OS can't be helped by freegeek. If they had taken the time, they would have found Linux to be quite rewarding, useful and utilitarian. But we, as society, cannot MAKE them take that time.

    I don't see Bill Gates offering his OS free to anyone, much less any other manufacturers out there offering to let you build your own computer, show you how to do it, and then let you take it home after you have traded some time for the computer.

    I am noticing a disturbing trend on this board. We need to remember that the poor are not as reflected in this thread. In other words: Stop treating the poor as dumb and lazy. The majority are neither.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    This entry would really be at home on a site like Always On. The pro-business rhetoric and outlook there would result in little scrutiny. No one would question the assumptions or do follow-up research.

    I do have something positive to say about One Economy. It does not appear to be an Altria Group organization. Quite a few charitable organizations that claim to help the poor and/or minorities are public relations vehicles funded by Altria. Altria is the smiling face of Phillip Morris, Inc. and Kraft. We are familiar with its other, frowning face, cigarettes and junk food. For all its charitable claims, Altria does more harm than good.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    JJ Ark, my referrals are everyday people. Everyday people use Windows or Macintosh OSes*. Hobbyists, people who like arcania, use Linux. (0.3 percent of the U.S. market.) To try to impose one's rarified taste on people one is supposedly providing a service to is selfish in my opinion. The service should be driven by what its users want and need, not the arcane interests of the people in charge. (What's next? Demanding participants vote for Nader because some of the Free Geek leaders did?) Furthermore, some of the people I talked to did their time on the Free Geek plantation. They then discovered that Linux on an old computer was not of much use in real world terms.

    *Linux has carved out a niche in server use, but we are talking about individuals in this context.

  • JJ Ark (unverified)


    You have got to be kidding me.

    First: I used to own internet cafes that were run off Linux. Xwindows is more robust than Mac OS, far easier to use than Windows, and can run on machines that are unsuitable for Bill's Bloatware. I had exactly one complaint in 3 years of cafe use about the Linux computers, and that was from a script kiddee that found it difficult to hack into. However, the windows boxes were down frequently, and had many, many problems.

    Linux does, indeed have a business application, and everything the average user wants to do online can be done as easily in Linux Xwindows. Ok...maybe you can't use your digital camera as easily. Or your weirdo fancy shmancy printer that does negatives on rheostatic paper. But if you can buy a digital camera, you are probably not trading time for a computer at freegeek*.

    Secondly...no one imposed anything on anyone. Period. End of story. If they didn't want to participate in Free Geek or didn't like the OS offered, they didn't have to set foot in the door. The service they offer is what they offer, not what you think they should offer. You don't like it, then take your business elsewhere, or schedule a meeting with the board of FreeGeek and air your concerns. The last time I checked it was 14 hours of volunteering to get a usuable, internet capable computer at no charge. I am sorry, but your complaining about the product offered by a group providing a public service in exchange for a relatively small amount of volunteer hours would be laughable if it wasn't so dang sad.

    Thirdly, I have to object to your use of the term "Plantation". The occupants of plantations weren't there by choice. The person who doesn't want a linux computer from freegeek can just not show up. No whippings or beatings, no consequences.

    And finally: Nader? snort. whatever. Equating a volunteer effort from a nonprofit with coerced voting had never occurred to me. Wonder why that is?

    *actually, I have no clue how to run a digital camera off linux. It might be easy. Ask around...someone is bound to know. Sorry for the generalization.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    No, you must be kidding. I repeat 0.3 percent of the market, and that is mainly Linux servers. If one were serious about helping novice computers users one would use the Windows OS. Older software to save money, perhaps. But, it makes sense to expose people to what they will encounter in the real world, not in a Linux geek's fantasy world. That is why we teach in English instead of Armenian, despite the appeal of Armenian to maybe 0.3 percent of the population.

    I will anticipate your upcoming Bill Gates is the devil and you're his handy woman rant. Don't waste your time. I use a Macintosh. Yes. I use a Macintosh and would provide novices with Wintel hardware and software. That is because the process should be about them, not me.

  • rmannon666 (unverified)

    I got to tell ya, you got it all wrong about Linux Mac Diva. I would assume by your name that you use a Mac? Which is actually UNIX under the hood of OSX. It's just made all pretty for people who don’t know what real computing is all about. It's about learning how to use tools to get a task done. Unix is the big brother of Linux. Take off your fancy "desktop" which is not the "os" and they look exactly the same. If Linux is so arcane why is the rest of the world out side of the US sucking it down like it was crack?

    Check out the SCO case. It’s bullshit put in the way of "free software” to keep the Microshaft top. Bill gave them money to go after free software.

    Hate to bust your balls, but you left yourself wide open.

    “MS free since 2000”

  • JJ Ark (unverified)

    Hey...if you are buying, I am sure FreeGeek is providing.

    The last time I looked, Win OS was around 100$. I am sure you could get the nonprofit price of 70$. Go for it. By the way, that would be the price per EACH.

    This isn't about an anti microsoft agenda. This is about primarily about cost. windows is bloody expensive. so is macOS to be fair. Linux is Free. Thus the name Free Geek.

    Additionally: The level of hardware necessary to run the "common" installs of windows is far higher than 14 weeks can get you in trade. Anywhere. Same for OSX. You can't just slap it on any old 486 (or quadra) and expect it to run. You can do that with Linux.

    Of course, FreeGeek runs off donated parts, so you might want to get some folks to toss out their new computers, otherwise they gots what they gots, and you won't be running XP off of it. Can't build a cadilac out of yugo parts. What you can do is build a really reliable yugo with a few parts from the caddi.

    And another peeve of mine: People don't actually use "computers" at work. They just don't. They use applications. At my company, we can't get in the guts of our boxes. They would crucify us. So I use* the progs they provide, and frankly, if you haven't seen the programs that come in xwindows, you can't understand that they are quite similar.

    Oh, and I don't hate Bill Gates, and I too, use Mac. I just don't see Billy offering up the poor of the world a computer in exhange for 14 hours of work--which he could easily do.

    *Unless they are in IT, in which case FreeGeek is perfect: rebuilding wintel hardware. Linux don't run on boxes of peanut butter-it runs on wintel boxes.

  • (Show?)

    This has been a dynamic discussion so far and I appreciate the consideration of the topics. However, there has been several issues I wish to clear up or comment upon.

    Technology, specifically the Internet, has been a transformational force in our lives. It has changed the way we undertake our daily lives, our businesses, our schools, our government and the list goes on.

    However, the tool that is technology has not been applied to poverty alleviation and community development. One Economy, and other local partners are interested in creating a new set of tools, looking forward, that provide low-income families with new opportunities. I think we are doing that successfully considering that One Economy is only four years old.

    The point of the post was to say that it is now time for the State of Oregon to think beyond hardware as a technology policy and embrace the power of the Internet to be a transformational tool for low-income residents.

    However, there were a couple of things that I feel I need to address directly:

    1) One Economy does not sell or endorse a particular product or company. What the Beehive does is help families become more knowledgable consumers of services - whether they are government, nonprofit or business services - in pursuit of building permanet assets. This does indeed require us to talk about market-based services, such as mortagages, bank accounts and insurance.

    For example, you will notice that we not endorse Allstate in our "All About Insurance", but rather give the Allstate Foundation a "supported by" credit. A very common thing for all nonprofits.

    2) Some comment that having public access, such as in libraries is enough for low-income families. In addition, that a computer is a luxury item and not an entitlement. I respectfully disagree that computers and convenient Internet access is merely a luxury. It is more than an amenity and is an essential tool for improving one's life, or at least has the potential do so.

    The idea that there is a 'seperate but equal' access to the Internet is, well, disturbing to me. I will let you make the connections, but it in the least promotes two economies, one for the rich and one for the poort.

    3) Mac Diva certainly had much to say (she was on a tear -- good job by the way), but I can say that One Economy has helped 6,000 units of affordable housing have low-cost high-speed Internet access in their units. We do this by a shared wiring plan that splits the costs of ISP services among residents, just like a networked office. I would be happy to go into more detail.

    4) Lastly, Jon suggests that One Economy's ideology and programs are "a waste of time and resources" and that hunger and living wage jobs are more important.

    It is obvious that hunger issues and living wage issues are far more important than a computer. I certainly don't advocate for people to give up their family meal to pay for a computer. However, Jon misses the point by a mile. The point is that technology play a role in helping families who are in need increase their ability to find information and services that support their lives. This is true of folks that are homeless, as well as folks more comfortable.

    Thank you for the debate and the careful thinking!

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    Good try, Robert. But, you aren't the only JD around here. (Yes, I researched that, too.)

    Though my intention is not to treat One Economy as if it is the worst possible thing that can happen in the area of 'charity' that isn't, I will amplify the points that reveal Robert's key argument -- that One Economy helps the low-income -- is smoke and mirrors.

    1) The service provided -- cable modems -- is above market in cost. (Indeed, cost could be cut by as much as a third if dial-up were used.)

    2) There is no competition among ISPs, assuring continuing high costs.

    3) After the initial three to six months rebate One Economy negotiates with AT & T/Comcast, the costs to these low-income citizens is market or higher. What One Economy does is deliver a semi-captive audience to its chosen ISP. (As we all know, quitting an ISP in less than a year brings substantial penalties or a bad credit report. So, these low-income residents are coerced out of at least $300 dollars after the discount ends. It could be higher if they have been persuaded to add other cable features.)

    4) Beehive does promote selected businesses, either for goodwill or money. For example, since Allstate is the only insurance company mentioned, the user has no comparison information. There is likely a contract forbidding State Farm or American Family, etc., from also being referenced on the site. In addition, users are funneled to Beehive, preventing these novices from becoming aware of the much more thorough information available on the regular Internet. (Think AOL in the 1990s, but with much less material.)

    To summarize, it may be a good thing to wire low-income housing for Internet access. But, One Economy is a business doing so to make a profit, not a charity. (I am going to assume that most readers know 'non-profit' corporations can be quite profitable.)

    I do appreciate Robert having posted this entry. I may blog about One Economy to inform consumers about the pitfalls.

  • pdinxs (unverified)

    Point One- MacDiva: You know nothing about computer operating systems. Linux is in no way arcane. Most every server IBM sells to big and small corporations all over the world are run on Linux. Most every tiny internet cafe on every single block corner in England, China, and Poland are run on Linux (there are very very many- knowledge from experience.)From your name I assume you appreciate Macintosh computers. You obviously are not the diva that you proffer yourself to be, because OS X is based on a Unix kernal, which is the most stable kernal out there- and Linux is related heavily to Unix(add SCO discussion here.) I don't say this often but you really set yourself up for this with your attitude....you are a dumba$$.

    Point Two- Chuck Sheketoff: DSL technology no longer requires you to pay for a phone line. You do however have to be within a certain proximity of your telephone company's Central Office or switching station. I know the Mt Hood area (Welches) just got one installed last year. I would suggest checking with Speakeasy- they are high in quality of product/knowledgability/ and customer interaction. www.speakeasy.net Good luck!

  • (Show?)

    I've seen the list of those low income people who got new computers subsidized by One Economy and I and a colleage have talked to a bunch of them so I know for sure they exist. They seem happy to have them, although mostly it's the kids and not the adults who bought the computers who are using them.

    For most people, computers are tools and not an end in themselves. Because they are a relatively new thing and somewhat complex, they have more of a mystique than they deserve.

    Using a computer for research on the web, for example, is a skill that is mostly independent of the OS or even the browser running on the computer. It's like cars. I've never bought a car because the knobs and buttons were all in the same place on it as on my last car. Yes, there is always some relearning to do but my ability to drive is largely independent of the vehicle I do it in. I learned to drive in a Dodge station wagon with a push button automatic transmission, I've since transferred those skills to driving other cars, vans, trucks, motorcycles, tractors, combines and even a windrower that used sticks for steering.

    By far the most valuable thing a person learns from having a computer is what computers are and aren't good for.

    By the way, I recently had the opportunity to talk with some people in a low income tenants group about how they use the Internet. Most of them use library or other community center computers. They were the most savvy computer users I've ever spoken with. They get it about computers being useful for managing everyday life in a way few other people I've encountered do. Those people don't need self-appointed champions of any sort to tell them what they need or what they should be doing. Given reasonable, if not ideal, access, they've figured it out for themselves.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    I like this post, if for no other reason than I thought it was readable. 'People judge you by the words you use.' And you know why? Because there's a connection (in brain tissue) between words, expression, understanding, and behavior. I don't know from One Economy; my take on the text is it's angling for some State funding grant. That's a fair thing to do, legit, maybe even noble. And the grants got to be granted to someone. My judgment of One.Econ, first impression, is that their vice-president clearly expressed his thinking and purpose in societal organizing, and what he expressed I agree with, and we (Oregon taxpayers) can somewhat confidently rely that an (public) investment in One.Econ would go to its purpose and not to profiteering.

    As to whether or not we agree with its purpose -- social services linked in web facilities: that's another matter. But if we agree, One.Econ most probably would deliver to it, is my hunch.

    I went to Free Geek, oh, like over a year ago. GREAT place! I was looking to see if I could help them, maybe volunteer to teach classes. Found out they have a steady supply of instructors because part of getting a free computer there is that you are obliged to take a class to learn how to use it, and then after you learn you have to, further, turn around and teach that class (or what you learned) to the next newbies. Teaching a subject is the best way to learn it.

    What hasn't been said in this thread is that Free Geek has a very important presence as a recycling drop-point for computer hardware. They keep circuit boards and boxes out of the landfill. The biggest problem, and most frequent 'customer,' (natch), is monitors. The picture tube (CRT -- sorry, can't help myself) type monitor is coated inside the glass with phosphorous compounds and some gnarly (carcinogenic) other ingredients that should be kept out of the 'crusher' flow of disposal. Free Geek (2003) was palletting and shrink-wrapping about 24-stacked-monitor cubes, and trucking the cubes to Seattle for a freighter to Asia somewhere. It was a very tenuous, singular, disposal channel -- the trucks and freighter and Asia could any one of them cancel at any time, (nonprofit, see?), and all the abundant 'labor' at Free.G was most reluctant to stack-and-wrap pallets, (because it's, well, so laborious), so monitors are a big problem. And migration to flat panel (non-CRT) displays means the volume of tossed-away old monitors is increasing. But, hey, Free Geek -- it is on the ground in a hi-tech world. Get your baptism on.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    (Thinking if I break this into bits of comment it won't seem so long.)

    The world is changing so fast. Biggest influence of all is the price of oil, and in that, the inexorable decrease in supply. We are using up the planet's one-time gift. One thing this means is that gas could cost ten dollars a gallon by maybe as soon as the end of Dubya's second term. The point is: Now (then) how many people can commute to work? (Steve Schopp: Then how does MAX look, in the real future economy?)

    Most people I hear talk on the (future oil) topic more or less recognize that oil runs out, but it remains abstracted from their real life, off in some vague future time. Knowledgeable consensus is that the impact has already started and is growing -- barrel-of-oil price doubled in Dubya's first term. (The End of Oil?, by Mark Williams, M.I.T.'s TechnologyReview.com If the actions - rather than the words - of the oil business's major players provide the best gauge of how they see the future, then ponder the following. Crude oil prices have doubled since 2001, but oil companies have increased their budgets for exploring new oil fields by only a small fraction. Likewise, U.S. refineries are working close to capacity, yet no new refinery has been constructed since 1976. And oil tankers are fully booked, but outdated ships are being decommissioned faster than new ones are being built. If those clues weren't enough, here's a news item that came out of Saudi Arabia on March 6, 2003. Though it went largely unremarked, ...)

    It means talk about Social Security in 2018 or 2042 is probably all off base. It means a lot of people's plans for the future -- 'I'm gonna be a grandparent and retire' -- are way off base. Ain't gonna be that way, the way things are headed now.

    Poor people and disadvantaged circumstances are going to be with us in the future, too, and if they have internet empowerment they are more likely, I think, to be able to earn wages, (than they are today when it takes a car to have a job, almost).

    Computers. The internet. The future. My favorite line so far in this thread is "It's about learning how to use tools," (rmannon666). The computer that Free Geek offers for free is almost irrelevant to what they do. They teach people how to computer, (and feed them for life). Think bicycle analogy. You can go and get a free bicycle. So what? Or you can go and get a free bicycle and be shown how to oil it and change brake pads AND people help you learn how to ride it. Way after the free bike is out of your life you will still know how to ride a bike. That's so what.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    People are certainly free to buy the hype if they want to. But, let's not forget the facts:

    1) One Economy is a profit generating corporation that delivers a captive audience to an expensive cable modem ISP. Once there, they are funneled to a portal that tries to sell them more services without adequate disclosure.

    2) One Economy and its partners are not efficient agents for Internet services to a low-income clientele. Dial-up accounts would cost the residents about $20.00 per month. Instead, they are paying $60 per month or more for cable modem service. (I made an error above, meaning to say that the cost could be reduced to a third, not by a third.)

    In regard to Linux,, one does not need to be a programmer to understand that it is not the best OS for novices. As I said before, Linux has 0.3 percent of the U.S. market, most of it in servers. People need an OS and software that they can use to enhance education and work skills and opportunities. That would be Windows.

    Pdinxs, your insult to my intelligence notwithstanding, it is you who fail to grasp what the issues in regard to One Economy and Free Geek are. Suffice it to say they have nothing to do with what OS servers in Rangoon or the Hebrides are running on.

    Doretta, the issue isn't whether people got computers. (Actually, they are from Dell.) The issue is whether the computers were really discounted. Considering what I learned about the reltionship between One Economy and the ISP, I doubt it.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    I've hooked up a lot of people with computers. I've seen it all. I still get calls ... I got a call today: 'Would I come over and show them their email.' People just are not computer functional, I don't care what percent of homes have them.

    In the bizness computer malfunction is C.E. -- Cockpit Error. The driver's the problem, not the car. Except, see, the 'computer equals car' analogy is false, essentially. 'Using a computer equals playing a musical instrument' is more like it. Maybe computer malfunction should be S.N. -- Sour Note.

    So for years I have been dragging people to the internet and hooking them up. Last summer, I went to visit my longtime homies. The one bought his first computer from me twenty-five years ago, (to keep his farm chart of accouts and supporting schedules). So I asked him (in June) if he got my email (sent in April). "Oh," he says, "I don't actually use the computer hardly."

    A second one runs a franchise hardware store and the corporate HQ had set them all up with in-store networks for point-of-sale and inventory tracking. Out in farm country, this is uptown. So I see it's a kludgy keyed internet homepage application laid on top of Windows, (like Diebold et al.'s ridiculous elec.voting machines), so I says to my friend, (you know, we've known each other since childhood classmates), and he's as red-stater as it gets, "Hey, can I use your computer a second to show you something on the internet," (my nine eleven op (neo-) con job bubble popper), and he says "Oh, I don't know if it is on the internet ... Is that legal?" Well, it was online and legal, and I showed him, and he really didn't want to know that he was able to know all the things he could discover in life (ebay?) but for admitting that he didn't, and wasn't going to, apply himself or make an effort. Easier just to blame the people who design the world, 'they,' for making it all too complicated.

    In these two scenes, (and a few dozen more since, which reinforced it), I saw a new position. That gave me two a total two positions. By standing on both of them I was able to reach and grasp a third position.

    In the first place I had thought to bring the internet to people without it, so they could see "all the information in the history of the humankind." In the second place, I realized that what also needed to be done was to bring people without internet to the internet. Which I thought of as speaking for them, relaying their communication to the internet (that's us, you and me, here now), because they are not here to speak for themselves. Give them voice. That was a big part of me starting channelling 'Tenskwatawa' on this 'Oregon' blog; I am trying to speak for the first peoples of Oregon, who are. Oregon. and are not represented, and the 'Oregon' cannot be whole without them. (Us.)

    So, the people have to see the internet, AND, the internet has to see the people. Third idea, then, (sorta Q.E.D.-obvious), is that the medium is two-way.

    For every comment I read on blogs now, where someone says something about 'getting the word out,' or 'telling everybody what's going on,' I think that's the half of it, how are we doing at 'getting the word in' (to the internet), or how far are we (internet) 'listening' for what's going on (input). With my third 'eye' now, I look apart from the content of the messages to check on the bi-directionality of the traffic. (When somebody grabs the microphone and says 'is this thing on?' there needs to be somebody in the back shout out in a slur 'play Mishty for me,' or you can figure the whole get-up is not working.)

    So this post is very heartening for me. Here comes somebody from One Economy, whatever that is, saying 'this is the voice of the poor and indigent representing on the internet, to Blue Oregon. Come in Blue Oregon.'

    Very early on, in the first days of this blog, there was a comment by somebody (I haven't seen since) that just stabbed at me. Somewhere halfway down the tussle and scrum of comments in some thread, (which one is irrelevant), there comes a voice that says 'well, nothing going on here means anything to, (or carries anything from), Hispanic concerns.' And it was right. This can't be an 'Oregon' blog if it doesn't have the Hispanic element, because that's part of Oregon.

    Sprinkled all along the way are repeated pleas to include more than Portland (and a slice of Lane County) in the definition of 'Oregon' in Blue Oregon.

    The way it seems to work is somebody here speaks for my friend in the franchise hardware store economy, for instance, and then those statements exist here; and then word gets around to him that 'they' are talking about him on the internet, and then he logs on to find out what's been said and starts in adding and correcting The. Ongoing. Dialogue. And then it's working.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    Lastly. Windows is way bad. Linux is way good. Snapshot sample evidence for or against either one of those characterizations does not convey the dynamicism of personal computer developments. Trend lines convey more, but, at best, it is completely unimaginable what's to come. I've seen it all and it's new every day.

    An item a couple weeks ago reported that Foxfire is a new browser, released without introduction on Nov.1, about ninety days ago. It's a free download and people are installing it and replacing Internet Explorer in massive numbers. In less than 60 days Foxfire has taken ten market share points out of Microsoft's hide -- can that be possible? The report said (as I recollect), IE was 95 out of every 100 browsers on Nov. 1, and was only 85 out of every 100 on Jan. 1. Also, Foxfire was 0 (zero) on Nov. 1 and 10 out of every 100 browsers on Jan. 1. Since Jan. 1, I asked five browser users in the 14-30 age group if they had heard of, or had, Foxfire; four said yes and yes and they were using it, one said no and no and she would look into it, (at the Mo-Joes coffee house internet cafe on SE Division St.)

    Wait for it ... Foxfire is Linux.

  • (Show?)

    Mac, it's been fascinating watching you spin "facts" out of pure predjudice and then backfill with a little bit of information and a lot more misinformation.

    People in the group I've mentioned paid $250 for new computers from Gateway. They paid $15/month for 6 months of cable modem access. All of them that my colleague and I managed to contact dropped the high speed access at the end of the subsidized 6 months. They clearly got discounted computers and discounted Internet access.

    It's certainly possible to debate the value of that to the people in question. In fact, debating that appears to me to be one the things One Economy is better at than many non-profits. Unlike so many, they seem to be willing to evaluate the things they do based on actual results rather than constantly sailing off into ideological never-never land.

    I'm not arguing that they don't have their own motives or that non-profits don't need watchdogs just like other enterprises. I'm just questioning the "judge first, learn the facts second if at all" approach to doing that.

    Your condescending and dismissive attitude toward Free Geek also bothers me. You obviously don't have a clue where they are coming from. Their mission is to take computers that would otherwise be thrown out, recycle them, and get them to people who can use them. They do that by involving the people who are going to get them in the recycling process. Most of them use Linux personally and think everyone else should. They are sharing something near and dear to their hearts, not saddling "inferior" people with an inferior OS.

    While it is fair to debate their effectiveness also, it is completely wrong to judge their motives through the filter of your judgments about the technology. Ditto for your judgments about the only proper way to "help the poor."

  • (Show?)

    Mac Diva --

    I have no real need to have an online debate with you about One Economy, but I REALLY DO have to clear up a couple of things. In fact, if possible I would love to meet you to talk about these things in person...but here are a couple of other points.

    First, I am not a JD, so I am not sure where you are getting that, but I appreciate the thought.

    I want to distinguish between One Economy's general work, and our participation in the eVolvement project in N.Portland/Portsmouth.

    We did not dream up the project (Innovation Partnership), lead it (City & Innovation) or even provide much beyond running three computer fairs and working a deal with Gateway for discounted computers, which were further discounted by funding from the City of Portland's Cable Office through a capital program that they have. (The applicant for the funds was Innovation Partnership, and we weren't even involved at that time. We came in much later.)

    We did not have anything to do with the AT&T 6-month access deal. Nothing. Were not involved in that at all. Again, that was something that Innovation Partnership pulled in. We just did the computer fairs and the discounted Gateway computers. That's it.

    OK, how we bring in low-cost access: We help affordable housing providers wire their housing like you would wire an office. In an office you of course do not have a DSL per desk, but bring in a commercial-grade DSL into a switch/router that splits up the service to each desk. Now think of a housing complex as a large commercial building.

    We design (and yes install) network systems for affordable housing. This allows each unit to share the costs of DSL (or higher) service, which of course drives down the cost of service for each user. We can help the provider to size the DSL to the client base. (Of course, if everyone in the complex is online and downloading movies, the service is slower, but generally better than dial-up.) The average cost we see in the units we have helped design or install is $7-10 per unit, or even free, but that is the responsiblity of the housing owner/manager.

    This is a truly innovative approach in affordable housing, and we have brought that to 6,000 units of housing, which ultimately means that tens of thousands of people were benefiting. That is real progress.

    OK, now on to the business thing. Yes, Allstate Foundation subsidized our About Insurance, and we gave them credit for doing so. That is the only mention of any company in that section. We not have an agreement that prohibits us from mentioning any other company, because WE DO NOT RECOMMEND PRODUCTS. We truly want to help create a knowledable consumer base and create opportunities for families to improve their lives from the comfort of their own homes.

    In our Money section we have a link to Wells Fargo's online money skills class, because it is good content. We will soon have our own online Money Management course (written by OEC staff & nonprofit partners around the country, not by a private company) that was underwritten by Key Bank. We will do a "brought to you by" for them too.

    This is not all that unusual and does not speak to a corporate consipracy. It also does not mean that we are shills for the private sector.

    However, my main point remains -- the web is a powerful tool and we need to put it to good use for the benefit of all residents in the state.

    If you would like to learn more, please give me a call and we can talk.


  • (Show?)

    One last thing -- I don't think I made clear. The eVolvement Project in North Portland was an experiment to see how technology could play a role in connecting families to city services.

    As a pilot project I thought that is was a pretty good success in terms of lessons learned. Actually it was a surprise for many people that the most successful parts of the project was not the connection to city services, but the connection between neighbors...shouldn't be surprising really.

    So, we were glad to participate and were glad to learn a few things ourselves. However, I don't think that the City and Innovation Partnership will be replicating this project in this format anytime soon.


  • pdinxs (unverified)

    Pdinxs, your insult to my intelligence notwithstanding, it is you who fail to grasp what the issues in regard to One Economy and Free Geek are. Suffice it to say they have nothing to do with what OS servers in Rangoon or the Hebrides are running on.

    Um...well actually I have no idea what One Economy is and only a vague idea of Free Geek. I made no comments on them because I have no information about them. To you I was only talking about Linux as an OS. So it seems to be you who fails to grasp and actually hear what other people say, and instead hear what you want to hear, what you best could respond to. Does this happen often?

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    Doretta, you stated the main problem with Free Geek well:

    Most of them use Linux personally and think everyone else should.

    So, they impose their interest in something arcane on people they claim to be helping. As I said above, the focus should be on what the clients need, not on what the Free Geekers want. Furthermore, if a computer is beyond real world usability, it is still going to end up in a landfill when a Free Geek client realizes it is useless and tosses it.

    Robert, that is an interesting discussion of DSL. But, the people involved have cable modems. When I talked to Comcast, they said the one-year contract was required. It seems you are evading the high cost of cable by shifting the focus to DSL, which the participants don't have. DSL's cost are more moderate, but not nearly as low as dial-up.

    You appear to have a very inflated sense of your ability, Pdinxs. It leads you to believe you can 'correct' people who much better informed than you are. So, let me break it down for you. Linux, an OS with a tiny market share, will not prepare people to use the OS and software they need in education or work. Windows will. I can't think of any way to simplify the matter further, despite my empathy for your obvious cognitive disability. Hopefully, even you can grasp what I've said. But, then, maybe not.

  • (Show?)

    Mac, you persist in willfully misconstruing reality.

    Free Geek doesn't impose anything on anyone. They share their expertise and interests with others within a structure that allows those people to also become sharers. They haven't adopted your patronizing model of "helpers" and "clients." In their world, we're all in this together. They freely offer something they find to be of value to other people who can take it if they also find it to be of value or leave it if they don't.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    See, if your hi-tech limits don't traffic two-way, that mindset is broken. What it is, or could as well be, is:

    Craft-skill people will not need (accept) education or work which limitedly prepares to use non-Linux OS and software,


    "Linux,... will not prepare people to use the OS and software they need in education or work."

    Besides, Linux is better bit twidling. Hot and strong, like a penguin.

  • LynnS (unverified)

    Apparently MacDiva has fallen afowl of the FreeGeek "Linux or Death" squads I've heard so much about, invading low income homes and forcing them to use Linux at gunpoint. It's appalling, really.

  • JJ Ark (unverified)

    Yeah, I heard about those guys!

    They are all bald, wear pinstripe suits and royal blue IT shirts. They come to your house on a Vespa, unleash their viscious, evil, unwanted computers on the poor, ignorant masses and then run away, laughing.

    They only think they are helping people out by showing them how hardware works, and giving them a computer that functions, is stable, and is actually rebust, In reality they are just another version of the Man, pushing junky software, and poorly designed OS' upon those stupid enough to open their wallets.

    I hate those guys!

  • JJ Ark (unverified)

    Oh, and I was factually incorrect:

    FreeGeek requires that you attend classes in hardware and then build 6 computers, after which you keep the 6th.

    Here is the link. Sounds like an insidious menace to me. We should be vigilant! Like Diva! No sneaky OS shenanigans! Dilute!

    Oh, and they so brazenly declare, right on their website (!) what their computers will come with. How Dare They!

    The tricked poor are moaning and collectively mashing their teeth that they were taken advantage of.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    There is time to contribute volunteering: Second Day of Computer Build Party for Bolivia and Venezuela Racks up 55 Machines author: Steev Hise

    ... Two days into the 6-day sprint, volunteers have already gone past the halfway point in their goal to assemble 100 computers to send to Bolivia and Venezuela.

    The work party is happening at Freegeek, the local computer reuse and recycling center on SE 10th and Market Street.

    The project still needs as many volunteers as possible, of any skill level, to join in the effort, and people to bring food for the hungry workers. The hours that the project will be happening are:

    * Today (Monday) 1/17: 11 am on through the day/night (probably till about 7pm)
    * Saturday 1/22: 7pm till midnight or so
    * Sunday 1/23: 11 am on through the day/night
    * Monday 1/24: 11 am on through the day/night
    * Sunday 1/30: the palletizing/packing party! 1pm - 6pm

    At the end of the assembly process, the computers for Bolivia, once done, will be packaged up on Sunday, January 30th, ....

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    Here is an informational article relating to this thread. Digital Democracy's Future Turns on Wireless Debate By Michelle Chen Mediachannel.org

    [...] "A national nonprofit organization called One Economy is installing high-speed connections in affordable housing complexes in eight cities, from San Jose to Washington, DC, and aims to network 5,000 households by the end of 2005. The organization emerged from the public housing advocacy movement and founded its networking mission on the idea that low-income housing is a vital laboratory for exploring ways of integrating economically disenfranchised people into an increasingly technology-based society." [...]

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