Unwiring Oregon

By Robert Bole.  Rob is a Vice President with One Economy, a national nonprofit dedicated to using technology to fight poverty.

Wireless access is growing daily.  Oregon consumers are choosing wireless options for phones and internet access when reliable service is available. There are now more cell phone lines than land lines.  There are increasing numbers of households choosing to wireless and no wired telephone.    According to Ipsos Institute, all of the growth in computer sales is in laptop and notebook computers with built in wireless internet access.  Also, the percent of Americans who accessed the internet through some wireless means is rapidly increasing each year.  People are choosing mobility.  They are choosing mobility, the ability to take information and services with them and have it with them where they want it.   

Oregonians already have among the widest access to free or affordable high speed wireless Internet access. Fred Zahari has built one of the largest wireless clouds in the country in Eastern Oregon.  Intel and ClearWire are partnering to test WiMax equipment and silicon around their Hillsboro and Beaverton campsuses.  There are wireless mesh networks and WiMax in Portland, Corvallis, The Dalles, Bend,  Roseburg, Medford, Grants Pass, Ashland and more are in the works.  Future deployments of newer technologies like WiMax and others will further increase the reach of unwired access.  But how do we convert the reach of wireless internet into a benefit for communities?

Oregon has promoted access to broadband internet access through a variety of public policies.  Everything from building high-speed SONET rings to pushing fiber connections to cities and promoting e-commerce development.  To get the full benefits of wireless internet access, Oregon needs policies that will promote increased deployment of wireless, but what are they?  What are the obstacles to more rapid deployment and deployment to new areas?

The trend toward choosing wireless is not likely to change.  Few people outside of technology companies, however, have spent any time thinking about how to use this access to increase economic development or improve workforce development.

On May 1st Oregon is coming together on the campus of Oregon State University to discuss the impact of wireless Internet connectivity on communities and economy.  The Unwire Oregon Conference is bringing 200 policymakers, economic development officials and technologists from around Oregon, but also from across the country, to discuss and point the direction for communities to prepare for the coming mobile revolution.  Questions for the day include:

Although we are talking about technology, this is not a technology conference.  We are not interested in competing protocols or technologies.  That will come, just not at Unwire Oregon.  This is the chance to grab the attention of local leaders and inform them about the future and its impact on their communities.

Come to Corvallis on May 1st to participate, learn and discuss how unwiring  will expand and grow our economy and communities.  If you are interested , please visit Unwire Oregon's website.

Comments

  • Michael Wilson (unverified)
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    I am at a loss in understanding how this will help cure poverty and I do not understand why it is being held in Corvallis if the purpose is to help the poor because it is doubtful that many of the urban poor will be able to attend at that location. It is more likely that those attending will be making decision for those who are poor. It does not seem likely that anyone will be expecting much from the poor themselves in term of decision making.

    MW

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    Michael, I suggest re-reading the post.

    First of all, the intended audience is not the urban poor themselves - but rather those trying to figure this stuff out.

    200 policymakers, economic development officials and technologists from around Oregon, but also from across the country...

    Beyond that, you say that you are "at a loss in understanding how this will help cure poverty."

    And that's just the point. The purpose is to help you understand:

    Few people outside of technology companies, however, have spent any time thinking about how to use this access to increase economic development or improve workforce development.

    Here's my stab at it. There are many, many people in this world who are eligible for various programs -- help with food, child care, education, housing, energy costs, and more. But they don't know that those services exist, and utilization numbers among the eligible are often very low.

    One Economy is working to make those kinds of programs more accessible to the urban (and elsewhere) poor.

    As one friend of mine pointed out, if we're just helping poor people play games, view porn, and gossip about sports, well, we're not accomplishing anything. The point is to help provide access to services via the internet.

    Frankly, it's embarassing how un-tech-friendly our public agencies are -- there are still programs here locally that use notecards to track agency clients... getting internet-friendly is light-years away.

  • Michael Wilson (unverified)
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    Kari I did read it, but do think there is a need to include the poor in developing this. How they interact with the agencies and the services is important. That needs to be understood. MW

  • Dickey45 (unverified)
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    I stand behind the internet access for all. It is the next "level the playing field" thing to come after free education for all.

    I am part of the autism community. One thing that I find is that parents are unable to take classes, workshops or learn about autism because of child care issues. Many don't have the resources to hire sitters. Free access from home would give them the information AND support they need from home. No, not all would take advantage nor may have the communication or technical skills to read, type, or use the internet. But the ones that have those skills would at least have an option.

    I have been to several homes where people lived in 2 bedrooms with 3 adults and 2-3 kids. They are the working poor. But they all seemed to have computers.

    I'm of the philosophy that the internet gives us the information to become educated ourselves. Its like having a free library full of research literature, books, and community discussions all in one place. How does one argue with that?

  • Think (unverified)
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    We need to think clearly and carefully about the slightly jumbled message in Boles post. There are two distinct issues here that actually need to be addressed separately: The first is providing network access, the second is providing access devices.

    Kari and Dickey45 show they are thinking mainly about the first part of the problem, because network access is something largely architected, funded, and provided by the larger community to the user. From that viewpoint, providing access devices is mainly about letting potential users know what has been made available to them rather than listening to the potential user community about what they may want or need. The people coming together in Corvallis are well situated to address this component of the picture.

    Michael Wilson is largely addressing the second part of the problem, namely what is the best way to actually provide economically disadvantaged people from diverse backrounds with access devices. That is, once a resource has been provided, how are people facilitated in making use of that resource in a way that is best suited to their needs. Dickey45's anecdotal, belief-driven approach is exactly the WRONG way to even start thinking about this. Only by letting those who have the need speak, and define how to meet that need, will the need be met properly.

    I think the One Economy movement is a very good start towards addressing the first part of the problem. I read their website and, at least as they chose to present themselves, it seems they may have a way to go yet on addressing the second part. From what I read, most of their solutions for providing access devices seem to be mainly about providing low interest loans or other creative financing methods for economically-disadvantaged people to buy computers. This has the very troubling air of being a hidden program for boosting industry sales that may or not put access devices in the hands of people in a way that they get the most value out of participation in the digital economy.

    I sometimes find myself thinking that one of the problems in bridging the digital divide is that privileged folks, as stakeholders and economic beneficiaries of the digital economy, inevitably come at this in a way which indicates a certain natural obliviousness to whether their framing addresses all aspects of the issue.

    Finally, its seems hopelessly naive to me to believe that the internet is even close to being "a free library full of research literature, books, and community discussion all in one place". At least with regard to resources, Dickey45 seems to not know that that libraries are places where the work of curating a collection, which includes receiving specialized, knowledgeable interaction with a skilled librarian, is certainly the major source of value in a true library. The internet is about the "wisdom of the mob", and history shows the "wisdom of the mob" is of mixed value at best.

    I think Michael Wilson's points are very important because, if the goal is to empower the disempowered and bridge the digital divide, the task is going to be to actually turn the "wisdom of the mob" into something that is far more of a true community resource than it is know. To technical folks this is roughly analogous to the value-neutral distinction made between "data" and "knowledge". That requires involving both privileged voices, who see themselves as providing something to others including network access and financing schemes for buying access devices, and the voices of those who need this community resource, and may have a different, only nascent, view on how it can best be built to serve them that needs to be carefully discerned and incorporated into the mix.

  • egodraconis (unverified)
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    Something that has not been addressed by the state is that large numbers of banks, credit card companies, and other firms across the state of Oregon will NOT issue / open an account without a landline. They will NOT accept a cell phone number as a legitimate number when opening an account. With the growing trend to go wireless and eliminate costly landlines, the state needs to act on this form of discrimination.

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    I appreciate Michael's point, as it is the point of my work and One Economy's mission. However, the Unwire Oregon Summit comes from a larger view of Oregon's unique early advantage - that we will very soon lose if we do not continue to cultivate it -- in the emerging Internet mobility industry.

    While the implications of "unwiring" have profound effects on the poor, my participation in this discussion on May 1st is more moved by economic development and creating deep industry advantage.

    The core problem is that Intel, IBM, MetroFi etc. have capital invested in Oregon focused on mobility. Mobility is transforming consumer behaviors, business models and practices around the world. And all of this happening in our backyard without much of a state, regional or business cluster agenda coalescing to maintain this advantage and exploit for a variety of public purposes (taxes, technology adoption, attracting employers, etc.), as well as for private benefit. (Ye Gads! Did he just say profit!?!)

    Lovely Oregon has a bit of a moment right now...I am hoping that we do not waste it. Sometimes we are so good at being entrepreneurs that we forget that we need to also build infrastructure that lasts.

  • Jim Holman (unverified)
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    Kari writes: "Frankly, it's embarassing how un-tech-friendly our public agencies are -- there are still programs here locally that use notecards to track agency clients... getting internet-friendly is light-years away."

    I think the state Employment division could serve as a model. I got laid off a couple of years ago after 21 years with the same employer. I applied for unemployment and got into the job search database without ever having to go to an office. The job search was great. Bottom line: six weeks after being laid off I got a new job, thanks in large part to the online resources of the Employment department.

  • Jerry (unverified)
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    Isn't this all in the same vein as the "computers and software to cure educational ills" fad?

    How is free wi-fi going to help provide for educational resources and other assistance progarms to help the poor escape from poverty?

    Sound more like freebies for the laptop set to me.

  • Kiloseven (unverified)
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    Forget federal housing money and FEMA; the true engines of New Orleans’s recovery are caffeine and wireless Internet. As we noticed the day we arrived, back in January, the dozens of non-profit and advocacy groups that are trying to re-create New Orleans operate out of an archipelago of little cafés across the city. Few of these organizations have an office beyond the Sound Café on Chartres, Coffea on Dauphine, EnVie on Decatur, Rue de la Course on Magazine, and other spots, which, with the rows of people staring at screens and talking into Bluetooth headsets, sometimes look more like air-traffic-control centers than cafés.

    (read on, at the New Yorker.

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