policy does not now, but could in the future, address both of these challenges
simultaneously, thereby improving the prospects for sustainable cities. I call this policy
public transit for the information highway.
ground level it should consist of a system of shared-use, non-commercial network access
centers (NACs), analogous to bus or train stations, located so that no household is
further than walking distance from a neighborhood center, and no more than two miles from
a village station.
Each network access center can be programmed and staffed
to provide the functions (school classes, medical services, work opportunities, etc.) that
address the needs of the community.
The NAC should provide non-commercial access to broadband
networks, become the destination for many trips that would otherwise terminate outside the
community and, in general, become the center of neighborhood or village life.
The prototype NAC, the Blue Line TeleVillage (BLTV) in
Compton, California, has just completed its third year of operation.
The BLTV has six elements.
The Computer Center -- in an 800 square foot room
equipped with 12 pentium computers, local area network (LAN), and Internet access using
four integrated services digital network (ISDN) lines -- has provided public access
computing, classes, contract training for local organizations such as day care providers,
and facility rental to other organizations interested in conducting their own computer
training programs for employees.
The Video Conference Center -- in a 1200 square
foot room equipped with a dual monitor group-scale video conference system, seating for up
to 25 people, and three ISDN lines with an option for six -- hosted nearly 75 meeting
durings its first nine months alone. Video conference sessions included a contract
distance education class originating at California State University at Dominguez Hills;
library services such as story telling for pre-school children and a book tour lecture by
African American author Walter Mosley originating in the Pasadena Public Library; seminars
sponsored by the Small Business Development Center; a meeting demonstrating the technology
for local artists, and another with a Federal Transportation Administration official
discussing possible programs with state and federal agencies.
The Telework Center -- two semi-private work
stations, connected to the LAN, with their own telephones and printer -- provides a
professional work space for local residents who are home-based or for small and
under-capitalized organizations. It is located in the City's Business Assistance Center
(BAC) which also includes a meeting room and library, equipped with a VCR and a desk-top
video conferencing unit. The latter is intended for local business people to obtain
one-on-one training from mentors in Small Business Development Centers located elsewhere
in the County.
A Circuit Rider Work Station has
been set aside so that representatives of various government agencies (e.g., a benefits
counselor from the Social Security Administration) can schedule visits at the BLTV to
provide information or directly deliver services to constituents. It has been used by the
federal Office of Personnel Management, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and
Kiosks -- Small stand-alones from the Los Angeles
Housing Authority, the AIDS Information Center of the County Museum of Science and
Industry, and ATMs for the Wells Fargo Bank and the Bank of America provide additional
The Community Meeting Room -- a large space that
can seat up to several hundred -- has hosted numerous large gatherings, including the BLTV
planning meeting attended by 150 community leaders, BLTV Advisory Board meetings, a
Compton Chamber of Commerce mixer, and a Women's Day Conference. Other organizations have
held meetings there in order to tour or to use some other element of the BLTV, including
the Regional Business Assistance Network of the Los Angeles Economic Development
The BLTV has started the process of becoming a community
meeting place -- the Inner City Computer Society holds regular meetings and training
sessions, children's services groups have used the Center, and kids gather there after
school and over holidays.
One of the lessons learned from the prototype was that an
NAC can simultaneously provide non-commercial, community-wide access to broadband
networks, electronic versions of a variety of "place-based" urban functions, and
a broad program of business and individual support services.
Overall, the TeleVillage designation suggests that the
addition of a network access center to an existing center of government and commerce can
in time transform the entire complex into a sort of village center, where up to 75% of a
community's social and economic needs can be met. Three characteristics in particular
distinguish an NAC.
The technology platform is broader than either a computer
or cable access center. NACs include computers, offices, cubicles, desk top video, group
video conferencing, meeting rooms, speaker phones, collaborative work technologies, DVDs,
video and production and editing equipment, broadband communications service as well as
furniture, carpeting, and space.
Like a community technology center (CTC) or cable access
center, the content of each center provides non-commercial access to the means of
production in an information economy -- and an NAC will also provide access to every other
urban function that can be put onto a broadband network. This includes distance education
programs such as international trade seminars for small business, community college skills
training classes, university extension classes, teacher training classes, and contract
education for corporate employees. It includes telemedicine services such as medical
consultation, remote eye/ear/nose/throat and dermatalogical exams, remote fetal
monitoring, pre-natal counseling sessions, and certain components of HMO home-health care.
It includes many government services and business services (e.g., banking services from
ATMs to automatic loan machines).
The range of activity is especially important because it
is this quality of concentrated urban functionality which justifies permanent, structural
And this leads to the third unique characteristic. This
suggests that a system of NACs can legitimately claim financial support from a diversity
of sources, transportation and economic development funding programs as well as the more
commonly-looked to telecommunications and education sources. In fact, the BLTV was funded
by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA, reauthorized in 1998 as
TEA21), not by the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program
(TIIAP). Currently, there is substantially more money available for mobility projects than
for information technology projects.
While more individual NACs can be developed, the next step
in the evolution of a public transit communications policy to support sustainable cities
is a metropolitan scale demonstration of a system of three-five network stations.
It may be that the fastest and most cost-effective
approach to this scale demonstration is to transform an existing system of community
technology centers. An NAC uses a broader technology platform and provides many more urban
functions than a traditional community technology center (CTC). Some CTCs are already
moving in this direction. Many others have space to expand, a transit-accessible location,
and innovative management. It ought to be an appealing possibility for CTC managers and
board members interested in expansion.