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A new sense of community, shown through XOs

01.28.2008 by André Natta · → Leave a comment

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The first part of a series of posts about solutions outside of The Magic City shows that Mayor Langford’s vision for a wireless Birmingham is not that far off base. The main issue may be the fact that few are really looking at just how much of that solution may already exist.

There are approximately 83 free wireless hotspots in Birmingham, AL proper according to AnchorFree, a website that maintains lists for cities across the country. There are 58 hotspots listed in Washington, DC on the website. Take a closer look in the metro area, and the number jumps significantly, courtesy of this list maintained by IPSA and TechBirmingham. As we prepare to introduce 15,000 laptops into the daily local lives of Birmingham’s youth, we made need to reexamine just what we really need to be doing to embrace wireless technology.

Perhaps the main issue involves expanding where the hotspots are, as well as providing more information about what it actually means to have that access. It will do no good to claim that the access points are not where they’re needed. We simply need to find more ways to provide that service there. Providing access in area churches is a start, perhaps with the hope that it will encourage families in our community to take advantage of the service at home if possible. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. If we are going to provide that edge to our youth that this program is supposed to provide in terms of the digital divide, we will have to drastically expand just what it means to be wireless.

We don’t have to go as far as Philadelphia did with their attempt at a citywide wireless cloud, but we need to at least be leaning in that general direction. We need to not be ashamed to provide the service in areas that may not think it’s that cool to do so. As many of us have said before, maybe changing how we think about us can change how others view us. Let’s expand Internet access in several area parks and encouraging more access in some of our restaurants that may not currently see it as something that they need to offer. Encouraging students to frequent their libraries, where access is already available, may also be quite useful in this instance.

Something I discovered during the trip (and on other trips around the country in the last year) was just how much a WiFi hotspot encourages community (at least among those that need their access). It is still too early in the history of this site to rely on a built in mobile broadband card, though if we keep it up, it will become necessary. Even if that’s the case, it still means something to work in a space with others, allowing you to learn more about wherever you are. One of the biggest concerns surrounding our continuing reliance on the Internet is how much we may not talk with others. It’s becoming less and less of a realistic argument. WiFi access can, many times, open those lines of communication.

We all look towards creating a greater sense of community and opportunity in The Magic City. It may be time to also stop looking to tired excuses as to why we don’t move forward. That said, we must also always take a look at all sides of an issue before jumping in with both feet. The long term benefit to the city in terms of how productive we are and what it means to companies looking to move here is too important to not look at a holistic approach to the divide.

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