Troy DeSpain is Geek of the Week!



Troy DeSpain is Kramden’s Geek of the Week! Troy is a high school senior at Franklin Academy and has been volunteering with Kramden Institute since 2012. Most recently, Troy organized a computer equipment drive at his school and collected 29 desktops, 33 laptops, 19 monitors, and many other peripherals which will support Kramden’s computer programs.

Favorite Geek Website:

Favorite Geek Movie: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

What is the Geekiest Think About You? I enjoy computer programming and I am taking AP Computer Science this year.

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden? My favorite thing about volunteering at Kramden is awarding the computers to students. I enjoy teaching them how to use the new software and being able to see how grateful they are to receive a computer.

Best Kramden Moment? The first time I took a computer apart by myself. I had always worked on the software side of computers, so hardware was completely new to me.

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do? Besides computer programming, I also enjoy photography and playing the piano. My favorite types of photography are landscapes and macro/close-up.




Kramden Institute bridges digital divide with refurbished computers

Reposted from


Kramden Institute in Durham is dedicated to ensuring that every child in North Carolina has access to technology. Their mission is to provide technology, tools, and training to bridge the digital divide. They collect, refurbish, and present computers to families without computers in their homes.

Kramden’s genesis came as a result of a father and son project that began in 2003. The idea came from Ned Dibner, a middle school student who suggested to his father Mark Dibner that they refurbish old computers and give them to middle school honor roll students in Durham, North Carolina. Kramden’s name comes from “Mark” and “Ned” spelled backwards.

According to their website, Kramden’s impact has been a boon to the students and families across the state, and they’ve awarded more than 19,000 computers to students across 71 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. The group partners with schools, non-profits, and military aid organizations, and they estimate that more than 70,000 people have been positively affected by the program’s computers.

Ken VanDine and his daughter Ashlyn volunteer at Kramden Institute. Ken works as a software engineer for Canonical and his daughter is a Girl Scout working on her Girl Scout Silver Award. Father and daughter are passionate about helping those less fortunate to succeed. That’s the open source ethos, and the focus of the Silver Award, which helped inspired Ashlyn to volunteer at Kramden.

Ashlyn scrapping materials

PCs that aren’t suitable to be refurbished are scrapped, and all proceeds go toward supporting Kramden.

Recently I spoke with Ken about how he got involved in open source, and the work he and his daughter are doing with Kramden Institute. “Not every child has access to a computer, or the resources they need to learn to use technology effectively as they grow,” Ken explains. “She feels it’s important for all children to have access to technology—providing a child with a computer and the resources to learn can change a child’s life forever.”

As a child, he had more fun taking his toys apart and putting them back together than actually playing with them. “I got started in open source mostly out of my life-long need to know how things work,” he says. This curiosity continued when he started using his own computer, and he quickly became bored with what the various components did and how they worked together. He was much more curious about the software.

“It was early 1993; my ISP provided shell access to a Unix server for email, gopher, etc. I very quickly found myself spending most of my time logged into that server rather than using Windows apps on my PC,” he says. “I actually called my ISP to chat about what they were running, and a very nice tech there explained the setup and also mentioned this ‘new Linux thing,’ which could be downloaded for free.”

Ken saw that, compared to the price tag of their Solaris systems, a Linux system would be an affordable way to learn about Unix. “I very quickly started installing Slackware from like 40 floppy disks, and never looked back,” he says. He loved learning how the operating system and user space tools worked. “Before long I found myself downloading source code to twiddle with the code,” he adds. “This is not only how I got involved in open source, but discovered my own passion for coding.”

Ken’s love of programming eventually led to a job at Canonical, and then he learned about the Kramden Institute. “At first I was just excited about what they do for so many children,” he says. “It’s truly an amazing organization. After hearing about Kramden, I very quickly signed up to work a Wednesday work night, which was really a blast. Wednesday evening at Kramden is an event to remember. They are incredibly well organized and almost always have a full house. It’s a community of folks that want to help these children; I just fit right in.”

Ken testing monitors

Ken VanDine doing LCD testing.

Kramden’s Tech Scholars program helps students in grades 3-12 who are without a working computer in their homes. Kramden relies on principals, teachers, guidance counselors, and social workers to channel deserving students to them. Kramden Institute offers free technical support to students as long as they are enrolled in school.

Although their primary mission is to help students, Kramden’s Tech Community Partners program is designed to assist other deserving populations being served by nonprofit entities. These computers are available at nominal fees of $50 for a desktop and $100 for a laptop. Like all Kramden computers, they come equipped with Ubermix, a Linux-based system includes LibreOffice, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and dozens of open source programs, such as:

Kramden Institute is staffed by a dedicated team of professionals who have extensive backgrounds with nonprofits and a passion for their work. The core team is assisted by more than 40 volunteers and Kramden Institute’s Board of Directors.

Kramden relies on donations to sustain this incredible social enterprise. Kramden accepts donations from individuals and from businesses. If you have surplus computer equipment, there’s a good chance that Kramden can put it to use.Donating equipment could be tax deductible, and your contribution can help Kramden beneficiaries in North Carolina communities.

Currently the Kramden Institute is raising money to purchase 10 Raspberry Pi computers. Ken says that, along with an intro to programming class, they’ll be hosting a monthly coding activity similar to Code Club or CoderDojo. Many coding clubs expect children to bring their own laptops to participate, but Kramden Institute wants to provide access to such events for children who might not have their own computers, so they’ll be providing workstations in the Kramden classroom. “The Raspberry Pi is an amazing device for children to learn with, and really inspire them to learn to code,” Ken says. “We’ll provide Raspberry Pi devices for the children to use during these events.”

Ken notes that there are many children whose families do not have computers, so they do not grow up with the modern technologies many of us take for granted. “Imagine a middle school child not having access to online resources to do their homework or complete a school project,” Ken says. “This puts that child at a huge disadvantage. Going forward, the life decisions that child makes will likely differ.”

Ken says that children of today will shape technology of the future, but, because not all children will have the resources they need, their future potential will be limited. “All children should have exposure to technology and even some programming,” he says. “Even if the child never decides to become a software engineer, they will have learned valuable problem-solving skills, as well as have a better understanding of how applications are written, which will help them learn to use other applications in the future.”

Thanks to the vision of Mark and Ned Dibner, and the countless staff members and volunteers who are animated by their vision of a more inclusive digital culture, Kramden is providing the helping hand that ensures that no one is left behind. To learn more or to volunteer, visit


Originally posted on


Drone display sets world record



Joining Hands and Building Community: Digital Inclusion Fellowship Voices


When I try to picture what it looks like for a present-day community to “join hands,” so to speak, I often have a hard time seeing how it would happen. Not in an apathetic, “no one cares” sort of way, but I would think there is so much going on within the global community that the micro ones seem to just become backdrops for something else.

As someone who has previously worked in and with youth centers, I know firsthand what a neighborhood group that does work in conjunction with its residents should look like. Nevertheless, I could not imagine what cause or program would bring people together. That’s where the Kramden Institute comes into play. Tasked with giving individuals access to exploring, working with, rebuilding, and distributing computers, The Kramden Institute is a place where community begins to listen to the people living and working within it and their needs, then begins to put into action plans that address those needs.

The work that is done at the Kramden Institute has a direct impact on bridging the digital divide. I had only the smallest idea what Kramden was about before I began my journey with the organization. I knew that refurbishing computers was a major component of the work. What I didn’t know, until I was a part of the team, was that Kramden refurbishes over 3,000 computers per year and has over 2,000 volunteers to help with that process. These volunteers come from all walks of life. Some of them with no technical skills whatsoever, but with a desire to contribute to the cause—bridging the digital divide and making use of computers that would otherwise go to e-waste. Our volunteers have contributed over 20,000 hours to help improve the community, to help provide children with access to the technology they need today. The Kramden Institute is a perfect example of what can happen when a community decides to address an issue. In my eyes, this is something important that I am honored to be a part of.

Through this journey to provide technology for those who need it, Kramden has received and distributed hundreds of thank you letters. Kramden receives thanks from those who receive computer awards; and we thank our supporters and school champions who actually nominate students for the computer award. This is because we know that, without someone in the schools championing the program, awards could not happen. Even further, we recognize that the unsung heroes of this project are the teachers, the counselors, and the social workers who take the time to get to know the students and their needs.

The work done at the Kramden Institute is important work, and not just because of what it provides on a physical level. The Institute requires the people within it to become familiar with different types of people who live in the area. It is important work because it is work that involves the community and assists in its advancement, while also allowing people to gain access to technology and familiarize themselves with the evolving world around them. Even more importantly, it is work that allows us to see the direct impact of gifting someone a computer after it has been refurbished. Seeing the excitement on children’s faces on awards day demonstrates the importance of this work beyond doubt, because it is at that moment when we recognize that everything—every hour, every volunteer, every educator’s effort—has paid off. And that is the moment when we realize that every last one of us would do it all again.

The Kramden Institute, on top of being the means for a community to unite itself over an issue, is also a place where the benefit of that work can be seen and witnessed firsthand. Before I worked with the program, I couldn’t have imagined technology bringing a micro-community together, but it does. Not only that, but it succeeds in making the individuals who work there always feel like we’re working towards a new goal. Every goal we reach is rewarding.


Originally posted on


Mike Byrd earned his Doctorate in Law at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland Marshall College of Law as well as his Master of Business Administration degree from Cleveland State University’s Monte Ahuja College of Business Administration. He has over 25 years of business experience in sales, marketing, strategic management, project management, economic development, consumer targeting, interim executive leadership, nonprofit consulting, integration of social media with outreach campaigns, and business development.

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows are working this year on projects that include setting up basic computer skills courses, increasing home Internet usage, and volunteer recruitment and training.


Broadband adoption rates and gaps in U.S. metropolitan areas

The Brookings Institution
There is no question that the Internet is a huge boon to the economy and society, but maximizing its potential is only possible if all individuals are online. As a result, it is critical that policymakers closely track broadband adoption rates: the share of households with a DSL, cable, fiber optic, mobile broadband, satellite, or fixed wireless subscription.4

Until now, public, private, and civic leaders have frequently concentrated on broadband adoption at a national or international scale, looking at how rates vary across large segments of the population.5 However, new survey questions from the U.S. Census Bureau enable analysis at the metropolitan scale, creating new ways to measure and understand where America falls short in getting people online. This subnational approach is especially important because local and state governments play a lead role in guiding Internet policy, including infrastructure deployment, public outreach, skills development, and affordability programs.6

This brief uses 2013 and 2014 American Community Survey data to track current and changing broadband adoption rates at the metropolitan scale, while using a combination of other Census and Internet speed data to model what factors affect metropolitan adoption rates. In turn, the results of this analysis have clear implications for efforts to address the significant gaps in American Internet adoption.

Further information on the  analytical approach and methods is available in the appendix (see report PDF).

While 75.1 percent of American households had a broadband Internet subscription in 2014, there is enormous variation in U.S. digital connectivity across demographic groups and between metropolitan areas.

In 2014, more than 87 million households—or three-quarters of all households nationally—had a broadband Internet subscription, speaking to the importance of having a reliable, efficient connection to digital information networks across the United States.7 There’s little question broadband has evolved into the defining infrastructure of the 21st century.8

Yet despite its central role in promoting economic prosperity, broadband adoption remains highly uneven among specific groups, limiting opportunity for many people. For example, only 46.8 percent of households with incomes under $20,000 annually had a broadband subscription in 2014, compared to 88.8 percent of households earning $50,000 or more. Likewise, while 54.1 percent of individuals with less than a high school diploma had a broadband subscription, 91.5 percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher did. Relatively low adoption rates also appear among older age groups—64.5 percent of individuals 65 years and older—while those not in the labor force (69.7 percent) subscribe to broadband at marginally lower rates relative to the national average.

Broadband adoption also varies substantially across different U.S. markets, including the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. Although these areas tend to have higher adoption rates (77.8 percent) than the country as a whole (75.1 percent), these rates can still differ by up to 30 percentage points or more in some cases. Tech centers like San Jose (88.2 percent), Seattle (84.8 percent), and Boston (82.7 percent), for instance, far exceed the shares seen in Lakeland (64.1 percent), Greensboro (64 percent), and McAllen (58.1 percent). Table 1 includes the top and bottom performers across all metro areas, demonstrating the enormous range seen across the country. However, as revealed in Figure 2, the level of variation among broader geographical regions in the West, South, and East is less clear, suggesting local dynamics may be a more important indicator of broadband adoption.

Multiple factors—including higher levels of income, educational attainment, and telecommuting—all have a positive and significant effect on broadband adoption rates in metropolitan America.

National surveys—conducted by the Census Bureau, the Pew Research Center, and other organizations—have consistently found large variation in household broadband adoption across many demographic characteristics, including age, income, race, and education.9 While such cross-tabulations provide valuable context, they do not reflect the simultaneous influence of other relevant factors. This brief aims to addresses this shortcoming by developing a regression model to assess those variables of interest while controlling for other factors.10

Consistent with findings from national surveys, the model provides further evidence that income, education, and telecommuting had the largest effects on metropolitan broadband adoption in 2014 (Figure 3). Wealthier and more educated metro areas tend to have higher broadband adoption rates. Specifically, the model estimates a 1 percent increase in either the share of households making over $50,000 annually or individuals with at least a high school diploma is associated with a 0.3 percentage-point increase in metro adoption rates. Telecommuting has an even larger estimated effect, where a 1 percent rise in the share of all commuters working from home is associated with a 1 percentage-point increase in broadband adoption.

 On the other hand, the model failed to find statistically significant evidence of an association between broadband adoption and two traditional demographic indicators of interest. Neither the share of population 65 and older nor the Hispanic share of total population registered a significant effect. In no way do these results contradict the demographic splits found in the ACS and previous surveys. Instead, they suggest top-line findings of earlier surveys may reflect a combination of other underlying factors. Older individuals tend to have lower broadband adoption, for instance, but these modeled results suggest that could be due to lower incomes or less education.11 Yet not all traditional demographic splits were insignificant: The share of black population had a significant and small negative effect on broadband adoption. Overall, these results invite deeper investigation of demographic factors at a more local level.
The model also helps clarify the extent to which local broadband quality, development patterns, and industries can affect adoption rates. While media narratives often suggest deployment of higher-speed networks will boost local subscribership—and current data does show a wide range in average speed across the country—the model finds that faster download speeds are not yet associated with higher subscription rates.12 Instead, the share of a metro’s population living in urban areas is positively associated with adoption rates. This association may speak to a combination of different factors, including greater infrastructure deployment in denser areas, lower costs of service relative to rural areas, and potential network effects from neighbors using computers and the Internet.13 In addition, with broadband connectivity of growing importance to many service-related industries, the share of workers in technology-, management-, and education-focused occupations registered a moderately significant (at the 5 percent level) effect.14 The relative importance of industry was sensitive to model specification, though, suggesting the need for further research into the relationship between occupations and broadband.15 Still, the kinds of jobs people hold and where they live are important indicators of projected subscribership at the metro level.Collectively, the model points to many different factors influencing broadband adoption rates in metro areas in 2014. Markets boasting higher levels of income, educational attainment, and urban density with many tech workers—like Seattle or university towns like Iowa City—tend to have the greatest rates of broadband adoption. On the other hand, markets with lower levels of income, educational attainment, and density with fewer tech workers tend to lag behind in adoption, including places like Memphis and Laredo, Tex. In turn, viewing broadband adoption at a metro scale is often tightly linked to several variables, many of which will need to be examined in greater depth and over longer timeframes to gauge their relative importance.

From 2013 to 2014, the share of households with a broadband Internet subscription rose by 1.7 percentage points nationally, including a statistically significant increase among 58 of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas.

Over the two years the American Community Survey has collected data on broadband adoption, approximately 2.6 million more households gained a broadband Internet subscription in 2014 compared to 2013, driving up the national share from 73.4 percent to 75.1 percent. At the same time, the share of households without a computer dropped from 16.2 percent to 14.9 percent. Collectively, these year-to-year changes point to a growing a reliance on high-speed Internet access—and digital hardware in general—that has resulted in an increased demand for broadband, in line with previous studies.16

However, broadband adoption rates have continued to differ markedly among certain households and individuals, confirming two indicators of significance from the previous finding: income and educational attainment. For instance, while households with annual incomes under $50,000 tended to see their adoption rates increase the most from 2013 (1.8 percentage points), their overall shares remained considerably below households earning more than $50,000 (59.3 percent compared to 88.8 percent). Individuals with less than a high school diploma made similarly high gains—jumping from 51.7 percent to 54.1 percent, or 2.4 percentage points— but they still lagged far behind individuals with a high school diploma or higher (81.6 percent). Although it’s promising to see lower-income and less-educated groups increase their subscribership, these growth rates will need to accelerate even more to achieve adoption across the entire population.

The country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas followed many of these national trends, with most markets seeing a statistically significant increase in broadband adoption. Almost 1.8 million more households in these metro areas had a broadband Internet subscription in 2014 versus 2013, accounting for 68 percent of the entire U.S. gain. While widespread, the largest increases overall were concentrated in the most populated metro areas, including 426,000 more households with a broadband subscription in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle, and Chicago.

In total, 58 of the 100 largest metro areas saw a statistically significant increase in their broadband adoption rates compared to 2013, including 39 metro areas that exceeded the U.S. increase over this span (1.7 percentage points). The biggest gains—of 3 percentage points or more—tended to occur in metro areas with relatively low adoption rates to begin with, such as Fresno (66.1 percent to 71.5 percent), Youngstown (63.6 percent to 68.9 percent), and Tulsa (70 percent to 74.2 percent), which are building off a number of initiatives.17 Nonetheless, significant gains have also taken place in markets with higher adoption rates—those that were above 80 percent or more in 2013—like San Diego, Honolulu, and Ogden, Utah.The 42 remaining metro areas saw little to no change. Many of these markets registered increases under 1 percentage point or less, with 11 other markets seeing a slight and insignificant decline. The largest drops were concentrated in the south, led by Greensboro (4.8 percentage points), Augusta (1.3 percentage points), and Lakeland (1 percentage point). In this way, while many metro areas are recording significant gains in broadband adoption, several others are declining or remain stuck in place, reinforcing the continued need to get more Americans online.


National and local broadband adoption rates confirm the country’s transition to a digital economy is well underway. Private subscribership rates at the national level continue to grow each year, connecting millions of more Americans to digital information networks. Meanwhile, leading metro areas like San Jose and Washington, D.C. demonstrate how rates have the potential to get even higher around the country.

However, completing the transition to an all-digital economy will be impossible until broadband adoption looks ubiquitous like water and electricity infrastructure.18 And much like electricity development in the 20th century, ensuring every American has reliable online access is a clear 21st century mandate to maintain the country’s global economic preeminence.

The results of this brief begin to sketch a roadmap to get there.

Targeted income assistance programs are a clear priority. Some of these policies will be set at the federal level, including efforts already underway; a reformed Lifeline program and the newly-announced ConnectHome will both improve broadband availability and affordability for low-income households.19 However, regional programs must also address local needs. In addition, there will need to be greater coordination across all government levels with private Internet service providers, most of whom already have a demonstrated commitment to community investment, despite lingering questions over civic transparency.20

Expanding digital skills curricula and training are equally important—and they should extend across entire metro areas.21 Digital literacy classes and training programs, for instance, can help prepare young students for their digital future and offer opportunities for adults to improve their digital skills today. Community assets like libraries are especially important in this respect, by providing public Internet access and representing centers for training.22 Fortunately, the recently-expanded federal eRate program will help communities build capacity at their schools and libraries, in particular.23

Public and private sector employers should also continue to incentivize telecommuting for both broadband and transportation benefits.24 Many of the largest metro areas with the highest broadband adoption rates also have some of the country’s worst roadway congestion—places like Washington, D.C. and San Jose. Telecommuting could both help get more households online and better maximize the transportation capacity already built in these regions.

Finally, continuing development of those federal and local policy roadmaps will also require continued research into broadband adoption. As demonstrated by the wide range in metropolitan adoption rates, it’s especially important to understand the local neighborhoods that drive high or low metropolitan performance, and how other variables may impact neighborhood-scale adoption. Considering the macro importance of getting the entire country online, the results of this study are really just a start.

News & Observer: Kramden Institute Makes Computer Connection

By Corbie Hill, Correspondent
The News & Observer, November 25, 2015


The Hidden Digital Divide

Today it seems like everyone has a smartphone in their pocket and reliable access to 4G internet. This dependable connection to the digital universe makes it  easy to forget that for much of the world this level of connectivity and digital literacy is still years, if not decades away. Back in September, SciDevNet put together a short but highly informative look at the digital divide around the world. Using animation to present the data, they show how international development seems to be closing the digital divide while in truth it is actually increasing it in many countries. Take a peak.

 Global broadband access over time

Read more here:



Volunteers ‘get their geek on’ to refurbish computers for students


With a few quick keystrokes, third-grader Antoinette Pate had her new computer up and running.

The family’s first computer also means that mom Deannea now can log in to monitor her daughter’s progress at Konnoak Elementary School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“The new computer is great,” Deannea says. “It’s a lot more convenient than going to the library and makes it easier for Antoinette to do her homework.”

Antoinette was among 110 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School students awarded computers in a mass refurbishing of desktop PCs. About 170 Wells Fargo volunteers in Winston-Salem participated in what is termed a “Geek-a-Thon” Sept. 17–19 to refurbish the computers.

The effort was led by Kramden Institute, a nonprofit based in Durham, North Carolina, to bridge the digital divide and close the “homework gap.” Directed by Kramden’s staff, the Wells Fargo volunteers inspected and cleaned the donated computers, replaced hard drives, added memory cards, and loaded software onto the machines.

“The ‘homework gap’ is the difference between kids who have all the technology they need at home versus those who don’t,” says Michael Abensour, Kramden’s executive director. “That’s what we’re trying to do — solve the homework gap and make sure kids get all the technology tools and training they need at home.”

According to Governing magazine, between 25 and 30 percent of the U.S. population is caught in the digital divide, lacking basic computer skills, home computers, or internet access. The organization’s study says 26 percent of Winston-Salem’s households are digitally disconnected.

WinstonNet, a Winston-Salem nonprofit that has worked for more than 15 years to close the digital divide in Forsyth County, helped with event logistics and worked with the schools to identify students for the computer awards. It operates more than 30 computers labs and provides free computer training.

A $20,000 Wells Fargo grant to Kramden and WinstonNet paid for the event.

Cari DelMariani, Kramden’s director of programs, says Wells Fargo volunteers refurbished all 230 computers the nonprofit brought to Winston-Salem. In addition to the 110 awarded to local students, she says the 120 other computers will go to other students in the state.

Since its founding in 2003, Kramden has awarded more than 21,000 computers to students in North Carolina.

Yvette Jackson, an operations clerk with Wells Fargo, and Joe Freeman, of the company’s Abbot Downing business, say they’re glad they took part.

“I volunteered because I enjoy doing anything that will help the kids,” Yvette says. “I’m always working on someone’s computer, whether it be my mother, some of her friends, or my friends.”


Joe wound up volunteering on two days, doing triage on the machines, which included replacing hardware, uploading and testing software, and helping train the students how to use the computers.

“My role was to teach each child how to connect their monitor, computer, and mouse and plug them in once they got home as well as run the educational software,” Joe says. “The excitement of each family receiving a machine was tremendous.”

Kramden has done 15 Geek-a-Thons since 2003, using donated equipment. In 2014 alone, the nonprofit received more than 10,000 desktops, 2,600 laptops, and thousands of monitors, computer mice, and keyboards awarded to more than 3,500 students. It also recycled reused and recycled more than 250,000 pounds of computers.

Read more here:



Lack of Internet access makes climb out of poverty harder

Golda Arthur, Al Jazeera America

Marsha Robinson celebrated a milestone this year. She earned an associate’s degree in applied science.

If this accomplishment seems ordinary, take a look at the odds stacked against her: She is in her late forties, is a single mother of four children and lives in the Bronx, a borough of New York City where 30 percent of residents are below the poverty line. But by far the biggest challenge, she said, was living in public housing with no access to the Internet.

“Oh, my God, it wasn’t easy,” she said.

She attributes her success to a fair amount of determination and discipline. And the digital van.

The van, a mobile computer lab, is a project of the New York City Housing Authority, the city agency responsible for public housing. The van travels across the city’s five boroughs, bringing free broadband access to areas that have none.

Robinson couldn’t afford a laptop or her cable bill and had no computer literacy when she started her program. During those two years, she would visit the van faithfully each week for fours hours at a time, taking her handwritten assignments to be typed up and printed out.

There, she would do research, complete online classes and look up the Latin medical terminology she needed to know. Some of her research was basic. “I didn’t know what a blog was when I started out,” she said with a laugh. “I had to Google it.” Her kids would go along and do their homework in the van.

Robinson is one of an estimated 2 million New Yorkers without Internet access at home. More than a third of households below the poverty line do not have home Internet access, according to the Center for Economic Opportunity. So for the city’s poorest, paying bills, doing homework and applying for jobs are harder still.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is focusing efforts this year on bridging this digital divide between the technology haves and have-nots as part of his broader agenda for economic justice.

Declaring that Internet access is no longer a luxury but a necessity, his administration announced plans to spend$10 million bringing free high-speed broadband service to five public housing developments in the city.

An estimated 60 million Americans lack Internet access at home, and given how much of our lives depend on online interactions, the consequences of being on the wrong side of the divide are substantial.

Robinson welcomes the mayor’s initiative but said, “It took the president to bring this to light,” referring to Barack Obama’s announcement earlier this year that he would expand a program bringing high-speed Internet access to low-income households all over the country.

In New York City, small-scale community innovation isn’t waiting for government to take the lead.

Take Stuart Reid and Doug Frazier, veteran digital entrepreneurs who created a wireless broadband network at the Harlem Hospital Center. The network also works as a backup emergency communications system for the hospital and provides free Wi-Fi to the rest of the neighborhood.

“Although there’s a proliferation of smart devices, people are lacking basic broadband in the home,” Reid said, pointing out that smartphones often have their limitations.

Frazier said that people who can’t polish their resumes or apply for jobs online are less likely to gain employment, further deepening income inequality. “The people on the wrong side of the divide won’t be the ones getting the contracts and the jobs,” he said.

‘Here’s this technology which is the most amazing gift of discovery in terms of giving people skills, and whole swaths of our population are leftin the dark.’

The people behind an innovative project in the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn are also convinced of technology’s ability to level the playing field. The pioneering Red Hook Initiative installed a mesh network of wireless nodes in the neighborhood in 2012. As a measure of how successful its work has been, it will soon be involved in de Blasio’s efforts to help bring Wi-Fi to the city’s public housing.

Red Hook is a fairly isolated part of southwestern Brooklyn, cut off from the rest of the borough by an expressway and poorly served by public transport.

When Hurricane Sandy took its toll on the area, the small-scale mesh network kept people connected during the storm and the recovery that followed.

The Red Hook Initiative also created the Digital Stewards program, a yearlong fellowship teaching tech skills to neighborhood residents ages 19 to 24. Jaebi Bussy trains the participants and says it’s about not just learning how to take apart a computer but also giving people tools to reshape their lives.

“It’s the ability to make choices,” he said. “So they’re not stuck with what they have. They now have the information and the power to make a difference.”

Quentin Dalton, a 21-year-old newly minted digital steward, grew up in the nearby public housing projects.

“A lot of times, you can’t pay your phone bill or try to scrape up enough money to pay the cable bill,” he said. “So the free Wi-Fi makes a big difference.” Dalton recalled that he once failed a middle school project because he couldn’t research or print out an assignment.

Tony Marx, the president of the New York Public Library, told a story of seeing a high school student with an old laptop on the steps of one of the libraries he visited. Although the library was closed, he said, the boy was using the building’s Wi-Fi to do his homework.

“He was a couple of miles away from one of the richest neighborhoods in the city,” said Marx. “That he had to have the crumbs off the table is shocking.”

This year, the library system will lend Wi-Fi devices to people who lack home Internet access, aiming to reach 10,000 households. The devices can be used for up to a year for free and was made possible by funding from Google and backing from de Blasio’s office.

“Here’s this technology, which is the most amazing gift of discovery in terms of giving people skills, and whole swaths of our population are left in the dark,” said Marx, adding that even in the digital age, the library has a role in helping people learn and keep pace with change.

To this end, the New York Public Library offers free tech classes at its branches, teaching a range of skills, from sending emails to coding.

“If you give people the tools and potential to learn and engage, they’re already one step closer to solving the digital divide,” said Marx.

Robinson agreed wholeheartedly. “Technology brings economic opportunity,” she said firmly.

She has bought a laptop and is working on her bachelor’s degree. She continues to use the digital van. “They taught me to fish,” she said. If there were increased access to technology for people like her, she added, “you’d see more people out here fishing.”


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MetLife Bridges the Digital Divide for North Carolina School Kids, Giving Away 100 Newly Refurbished Computers


NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–One hundred North Carolina school children each took home a newly refurbished desktop computer over the weekend thanks to the handy work of MetLife technologists.

Building on the success of last year, over 250 MetLife volunteers took part in the “Geek-A-Thon,” refurbishing a record-breaking 400 computers, and loading them with an Ubermix operating system and the latest in educational software. One hundred of the refurbished computers were donated to North Carolina school children. The rest will go to the Kramden Institute to be donated as needed.

Geek-A-Thon is a partnership with the Kramden Institute, and supported by a $25,000 grant from MetLife Foundation. Raleigh-area teachers nominated students they felt would benefit the most. Half of the students who received computers on Saturday are children of veterans and active service members in North Carolina.

This is the second year that MetLife’s Global Technology and Operations organization has hosted the Geek-A-Thon. This year’s event was held at MetLife’s new Global Technology Campus on Cary’s Weston Parkway.

“MetLife employees are making community outreach a major focus of the culture at our new campus. The Geek-A-Thon event involving several hundred MetLife volunteers truly reflects our commitment to this community as well as our appreciation for veterans across the country. Technology creates opportunities, and we hope that by providing children access to state-of-the-art computers we can inspire the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates here in the Triangle,” said Jim O’Donnell, MetLife’s Chief Technology Officer, Global Technology and Operations.

The Geek-A-Thon was an employee-driven initiative, which grew from a volunteer effort that one of MetLife’s employees started with Kramden in 2013. “It’s my privilege to be able to participate in this event and see how it has grown. The Triangle community has been very welcoming, and it’s a pleasure to be able to give back,” said Don Rowe, Vendor Relationship Consultant and MetLife volunteer.

Families coming to MetLife’s Global Technology Campus to collect their new computers were greeted by games on the Great Lawn, as well as a deejay and Snoopy. They were also given hands-on training and a chance to try out a host of fun, new educational software.

Saul Alto, a student at Barwell Road Elementary in Raleigh, is very excited to start using his computer. “I can’t wait to use my computer for websites like Khan Academy. It’s a learning website I can use to continue to improve my grades and earn points. I’m also looking forward to using it to access ABCYA, another learning website that also has games.”


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