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April 26, 2009

There was a very inspiring event this weekend where a group of community members got together to talk about getting broadband to the entire C-U community. YES!  I believe internet access is an important factor for inclusion in the emerging 21st century culture, especially a sustainable culture.  The forum was built off of a project already underway by CITES (the campus technology department) to apply for stimulus money (read: Obama money).  The stimulus package included 9 billion for getting broadband to rural and low-income communities and CITES is writing a proposal that will ask for $25-30 million.  Here’s the current draft of the map that was passed around by Mike, the project lead and panel member for the forum.
Urbana Champaign Big Broadband version 7

The yellow, blue, and pink areas north of campus are the low-income neighborhoods that the plan is specifically targeting. Although much of the talk during the forum focused on creating access models that include some sort of FREE access (as in beer) Mike was very clear that the proposal that he is writing won’t be FREE because the stimulus money stipulates that the plan must be “sustainable”. This is where the meaning of sustainable means different things to different people. It is still unclear what the final proposal will look like. A lot of the community members, church leaders, teachers, etc, were very clear that the digital divide is stopping many sectors from fully embracing online resources. For example, a teacher couldn’t assign online homework if they couldn’t be sure all students could get online. The librarian from Urbana Free also got up and lamented that her public access stations were constantly backed up; a sign of the times…

Open Access Forum

From left: Danielle (from UCIMC), Mike, (CITES), Anne Bishop, (GSLIS community informatics), Abdul (GSLIS), and a church organizer (can't remember her name, sry)

I can envision a compromise being a network of free wireless nodes that reach every home. The wireless would have some bandwidth limit if needed. If you want your own wired connection, you’d have to pay a certain amount. This would enable everyone to have some sort of access, and also allow people to have the super-sexy-mega-bandwidth. The mega-access really makes the whole project enticing to a lot of the more affluent parts of town already getting screwed by Comcast, but don’t realize it.  Mike was saying he wanted 100 MBPS… damn.

There is a website up to coordinate the whole effort.  (Champaign Urbana Open Access Coalition) Anyone interested in OpenAccess for Urbana-Champaign should think about signing up.

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