Winter 2004-2005

CTCNet Delaware Valley/Philadelphia Update
by Sabra Williams

In Philadelphia, access to and utilization of technology continues to grow as a result of initiatives by the City of Philadelphia, the School District of Philadelphia, Temple University, and Teaming for Technology. All four institutions have implemented, or plan to implement, practices by which access to technology will be increased, thus improving the greater Philadelphia community through the innovative utilization of technology.

In September 2004, the City unveiled initial plans to implement a city-wide wireless network, ensuring Internet connectivity for all city residents for free or at a very modest price and transforming the city’s 135 square miles into the world’s largest wireless Internet “hot spot.”1 A small number of cities throughout the United States have already contemplated similar plans; Chaska, Minnesota, a 15 square mile city of 18,000 southwest of Minneapolis, completed installation of a fully-functional wireless network in October 2004 that is available to all residents for a monthly fee of $16.2 Implementation of free or low-cost, city-wide Internet access would make Philadelphia one of the first major cities to offer such a service to its residents.

Wireless internet in Philly's Love Park
Wireless Internet in Philly's Love Park

City officials estimate it will cost approximately $10 million to complete the infrastructure for a city-wide wireless network, and yearly network maintenance fees will total $1.5 million. The plan would involve placing hundreds, possibly thousands, of transmitters on lamp posts throughout the city, allowing any person in the city with a wireless-enabled device to access the Internet. Most standard laptops today now come equipped for wireless Internet access. Once construction of the wireless network is complete, Internet access will be available anywhere radio waves can travel, including low-income neighborhoods where most residents lack access to the Internet. The City hopes to provide wireless Internet for free or low-cost, offering a substantial savings over commercial providers, that on average charge $40 per month for Internet service.

Details of the ambitious project released in October 2004 set summer 2006 as the target date for completion; build-out will begin summer 2005. Wireless access will be free in most outdoor areas; however, the City intends to charge a fee for wireless access inside homes and businesses. No plans have yet been made on how the City will secure funding to complete the estimated $10 million project.3

Philadelphia is also the first city in the United States to offer International Computer Driving License (ICDL) certification, a globally recognized computer certification demonstrating proficiency in fundamental computer applications and IT skills. ICDL instruction covers basic concepts of Information Technology, using the computer and managing files, and word processing, spreadsheet, database, presentation, and information and communication applications.

School of the Future in Philadelphia (artist’s rendering)

Ground was broken on November 15, 2004 for the School of the Future (artist’s rendering)

In addition to the City, the School District has partnered with Microsoft to create the School of the Future, a facility fostering the unique fusion of education and technology designed to embrace innovation, technology, and research and development. In November 2004, ground was broken for construction; the model school, costing an estimated $50 million, is expected to open in 2006, enrolling approximately 750 public high school students.4

Temple University, a public research university enrolling more than 34,000 students, recently received an $896,000 ITEST grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Information Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) grant is designed to increase the opportunities for students and teachers to study, experience, and apply information technology practices in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Through the ITEST grant, Temple will implement a three-year program designed to develop the Information Technology skills of inner-city youth in North Philadelphia through the development of a community geographic information system (GIS). Begun on September 1, 2004, each year, this project will provide 90 at-risk high school students with Information Technology instruction, spatial analysis, and cartographic and design skills through their involvement in developing and maintaining a community-based GIS. Instruction will be provided in Spanish and English, and students’ parents and family members will participate in the instructional process. The community GIS education model will be used to map neighborhood and community resources as well as catalogue community technology centers and create an inventory of their resources. Throughout the project, Temple and its Department of Electrical a nd Computer Enginee ring will collaborate with the School District, the Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha Rising Sun Avenue CTC,, the Forward and Beyond Program of Harrison Campus Compact, and the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations.5

Through a second NSF grant, Temple hopes to establish a community digital library to outreach to adults, nontraditional learners, and underserved communities; develop and enhance their science, math, and technology skills; and improve the quality of life at the community level.

In June 2004, Teaming for Technology (T4T), an initiative of United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania providing technology to area nonprofits, launched the Internship Program. Through this program, IT students from Philadelphia high schools, community colleges, and vocational and technical schools are placed at non-profits for internships developing their skills in Helpdesk support, networking, programming, web design, databases, and desktop applications. As of November 2004, 27 interns have been placed in internships at 14 different organizations for the 2004-2005 academic year.

In addition to the Internship Program, T4T also operates the Digital Inclusion Program, launched in 2003, in partnership with One Economy Corporation, a national nonprofit based in Washington, DC, and the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) and AchieveAbility, located in West Philadelphia and serving low-income, formerly homeless single parents and their children. T4T’s Digital Inclusion program has brought Internet access to two underserved neighborhoods of West Philadelphia by implementing a wireless network and providing computers to residents in their homes. Through a product grant from Cisco systems, wireless access points were placed throughout the neighborhood, and wireless cards were installed in computers given to each household. Over 200 families in two of Philadelphia’s most impoverished neighborhoods now have computers and access to high-speed wireless Internet in their homes. T4T and One Economy’s work was featured on the front page of The Washington Post in August 2004. 6

Philadelphia is becoming a technologically-rich society, providing access to technology to many city residents. Both Temple and T4T are bridging the digital divide by offering access to technology and the Internet to at-risk youth in North Philadelphia and low-income communities in West Philadelphia. In the very near future, the City will make the Internet available to all residents of Philadelphia as well as to those who visit, and the School District is turning to technology to provide a distinctive educational program and assist students in discovering their potential Through the diverse ways in which access to technology is provided throughout the city, Philadelphia is becoming a leader in the technology-driven twenty-first century and serves as a model for other cities to learn from.

1 The AP story, originally posted on, “Philadelphia joins list of cities mulling wireless Internet for all,” is available on (as of 01.05)

2 “Cities find Wi-Fi future,” posted on 10.18.04

3 “Philadelphia to start Wi-Fi next summer,” Wendy Tanaka, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11.01.04 — may require free registration on

4 “Microsoft and the School District break ground to build School of the Future,” University City Review, 11.17.04, available at Philly & The Weekly Press.

5 “NSF Award Abstract: Building IT skills among inner-city youth in North Philadelphia through development of a community geographic information system,” 11.17.04.

6 Jonathan Krim, “Program Aids Urban Poor In Accessing The Internet,” The Washington Post, 08.09.04, p. A1.

Sabra Williams is Program Associate for Teaming for Technology at the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and active in the Delaware Valley Chapter of CTCNet


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