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The Internet Is A Powerful Tool, But Can It Transform Lives?

Aired 8/2/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Can access to the internet transform lives?

Demographics of internet users prepared by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, November 23-December 21, 2010 Social Side of the Internet Survey.  More from Pew.
Enlarge this image

Above: Demographics of internet users prepared by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, November 23-December 21, 2010 Social Side of the Internet Survey. More from Pew.

Additional Information

An example of 1 Economy Corporation's web portal:"Beehive"

Pew research on the Digital Divide

Residents at three low-income housing units in San Diego are being introduced to a world some of them have only heard about. They are getting free access and training on how to use the internet. It's part of a nationwide initiative called "We Are Now Connected."

Guests

Kimberly Paul, San Diego Community Housing Corporation.

Leo Sosa, 1 Economy Corporation.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Residents at three low housing economic units in San Diego are being introduced to a world some of them have only hard about. They're getting free broadband access and training on how to use the internet. It's part of a nationwide initiate itch called we are now connected. Here to tell us more about it are my guests, Kimberly Paul is vice president of community development, the San Diego community housing corporation. Kimberly, thanks for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you for having me today. I'm glad to be hereof.

CAVANAUGH: Leo Sosa is one economy community impact officer in San Diego. He's conducting community training. Leo, good afternoon.

SOSA: Good afternoon. Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: What's the theory behind giving low income communities free access to the internet?

SOSA: Well, we believe that having internet access is so valuable to under served communities. We've seen the impact of families adopting technology, have changed their behavior, we've seen the improvements of high school students graduating, also the impact of families having the ability to understand how to use content. And the content should be also available in their own language. And one economy has done that in three pyramid ways or three areas, which is access, content, and training. And with this national campaign we have the ability to provide this digital ecosystem. And we're looking forward to see the results of what the San Diego community is going to have a year from now.

CAVANAUGH: We have heard a lot about the digital divide, that people who don't have any access to computers while the majority of the united states goes forward and more and more things become accessible really only through the internet, is this -- does this project fit into the mandate of the federal stimulus program, leo?

SOSA: Yes, these funds come through the broadband technology opportunity program. And one of the main reasons that we have received this grant is because the internet at this point, it's very expensive. And we have also discovered that a lot of families can't afford to have internet access. And one partner has this opportunity with partners like the San Diego county housing corporation to bring the internet into the home. Now it's affordable, it's acceptable, and they can potentially move on and join the economic mainstream with the new skills they're going to acquire.

CAVANAUGH: Tell me about the communities in San Diego that are benefitting from this program, kimberly.

PAUL: The communities in San Diego are diverse. We've been around for a long time, and so San Diego community housing corporation was really focused on playing to bring access and information to them. And we thought we would do this in their own language, do something that would reach them because they don't have access to the internet like other places. We have off of logan avenue, southeast San Diego, is where we provided these services to them. We're excited to be able to give them access internet, and the resources, in their own language where it's adaptable and 60s, and user friendly. And this has been a wonderful partnership with them.

CAVANAUGH: And about 600 households are involved in this, right?

PAUL: Correct of the it's about 600 households, and the San Diego community housing corporation has a total of over 1200†units here in San Diego. So this is covering about half of the people that we serve.

CAVANAUGH: Leo, could you tell us how this program works? You are a facilitator. You go into the community and conduct the training. How does it work?

SOSA: Well, that's a really good question. One of the things that we do is the first step is to bring affordable access into the communities. For us, that's very important. We also develop baseline service, identify what type of need the community has in respect of technology. Then we work with the houser to develop an infrastructure that allows to install this wireless technology that is very adaptive for the community. Second of all, we start developing a community portal, like kimberly mentioned, and it should be in spanish especially for the population. And i noticed talking to some of the residents, speaking in their own language, they felt very comfortable with the training they were making from myself and the trainers that we brought with the big top mobile van. The third thing we do also is to make sure that we continue to sustain the model. This is a two-year grant that will allow those particular residents to receive free internet access. Then for year 3, 4, and 5, we need to start developing a sustainable model that will get those subscribers. This is a grant that allow early adopters to get excited about technology, save money for two-year, potentially they can buy a computer, take a class, their kids can probably do something valuable now with access to the internet. And two years from now, we're looking forward to identify some of the data patterns that change behavior, some of the improvements they have done, maybe they have taken some classes. And for us, it's very important to partner with San Diego community housing because we need to make sure they see the data, the patterns and the valuation reports coming out from the trainings. We also have a community technology associates on the ground, which is a resident hire, we provide a stipend, and they manage the network, stay on the ground to get the community excited. Imagine the days where you call a tech support company and you don't know where you're calling, now they have a resident that can relate to them. They probably know this resident. Now they feel excited, and they can continue to adopt technology.

CAVANAUGH: I saw a youtube video of this being conducted, this kind of training being conducted in a housing community in San Francisco. It seems that there was a community room that had a number of computers set up. Is that the way it is here?

PAUL: Exactly. We have a total of six learning centers where residents can get resources and social security the. They can connect to the internet, they can employment opportunities available to them. It started off with us just have the learning center, then residents who did not have computers could use the learning center. Now with this partnership, they're able to go to the learning center, but also have access in their own homes. And any questions that they have, their cta is located in the learning center, and they can go there and connect with him and say i'm having trouble turning on my internet. Can you help me? He also troubleshoots different problems that are going on just in general with their computer.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you deal with people, leo, who are learning how to use this internet access, using it in their homes, the community centers. I'm wondering what you're hearing from people. Do you have to basically -- are there some people who don't know why they need a computer?

SOSA: Yes, there are thousands and thousands of them. I can tell you right now, i've done about 10,000 trainings in california. And I've gone out to communities in sacramento all the way down to San Diego. And i can see people not even knowing how to right click, not knowing how to scroll. When i see their eyes of just creating an e-mail account, it's a joy that one economy on a daily basis sees. Then potentially you see a resident who now has a resume, potentially someone connected to an old relative through Facebook. Technology adoption are those type of stories where people now have a chance to improvement their lives. And i came from a community -- well, a country called guatemala, when i came to this country, i didn't know how to turn a computer on. As soon as i turned it on, it changed my life. Now i'm sharing that story and i see those stories on a daily basis just like you saw that video from san francisco at a community called britain courts where i live. That's where i grew up. And i'm happy to be in a community sharing my best practices with the community and i love to replicate that story with the San Diego residents. So i'm looking forward to that.

PAUL: And what we found also is that local residents here in San Diego is that our blue collar workers or single moms who don't have time to sit on the computer. We found that once they were able to connect, they were so excited to have these resources available to them they had no idea that what was going on behind in this whole internet world. And so this really helped them to be able to see, okay, i can learn, i can go take classes. We actually have some students that are taking online crass through this process.

CAVANAUGH: When we first reported this program and receive aid news story on it, we received a few comments. And one of them was wouldn't it make more sense to provide free wi-fi over a really large section of San Diego than to do this in a broadband kind of a way, community by community? I'm just wondering your thoughts on that and whether one economy has thought to seek a grant for something like that. Or where are we on that?

SOSA: I can speak a little bit about what wee doing with this grant. Right now, we're connecting about 27,000 affordable housing units across the country. We also bring in broadband access to about 80 communities across the country. And in the San Diego area, you're right. We need to potentially partner with local constituents, and private corporations that can also see the impact after two years. And our goal is to sustain this digital ecosystem for years to come. And you're right. Potentially, my idea city wide wi-fi initiative, going to the migrant workers up north, that potentially we can identify new territories and find sponsors and donors that would like to see what the grant is doing for those economy communities. But I can tell you right now, unless we get to see that data, the reports that will come out that will see and identify how those residents have improved their lives with those technology skill. Then potential organizations and donors and foundations can say i would like to be part of that. I want to see that in my community. I'm looking forward to seeing the results years from now.

CAVANAUGH: And this internet access initiative is going to reach about 600 households here in San Diego. About how many would you say if you know across the state?

SOSA: We're probably going to reach out to about 5,000 households. Our goal in california is to also provide training with that particular grant to about 30 to 45,000 participate ants. So imagine it might be a unit with three bedrooms, a family that probably lives there, so we also need to identify how many family members are using the internet. And on top of that, the devices. It could be a lap top, a desk top, an iTouch. I helped a young person yesterday how to get connected with their iTouch. We're gonna see an increase not only from residents and users but also devices getting connected to the networks we're installing.

CAVANAUGH: Do you see this, kimberly, how will you measure the success of this program? How will you know if it's a success?

PAUL: We're going to work closely with one economy in that evaluation process on how successful we're doing. We've been putting together a reporting systems to how many users are using -- where are they going when they're getting on the internet? What are they using the internet for? What are the successes that we're going to do a survey about, what are the successes that are coming out of this? I think within a year to two years, we'll be able to identify those successes and being able to measure exactly how this has impacted our communities particularly here in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: When i was learning about this, Leo learned about the idea of the portal, the community portal through which the training is done and people can get access to the free internet. Does that limit access to the internet?

SOSA: Very good question. No, as a matter of fact, these are wireless open networks. And the community portal is just a simple methodology behind a splash base. The advantage of the community portal is that my goal for the next couple months is to come in and work with residents and residents service coordinators to identify focus groups where we will and the residents what type of content you would like to see on the community portal. Is it immigration? Financial literacy? Learning how to purchase a computer? Or learning also about ESL classes. We have tremendous resources in the San Diego area in respect of the latino population. How do we tackle those particular questions? And the community portal, it's available all the time as soon as that particular resident logs on to a we're now connected technology access.

PAUL: And this also helps the property manager as well. So any new news that's going on in the community or on the property or something that needs to be done, we can input that information as soon as the resident logs on. So that also helps them stay connected with what's going on immediately in their community.

CAVANAUGH: There was also response on our website when we ran this story, why can't we get it for this unit? Or for seniors over here? Why can't -- is there any possibility of expanding this program in San Diego?

PAUL: I think there's lots of opportunity to be able to expand it. We do cover some seniors within our housing sites. We do have seniors now that are purchasing a computer as a result of this because they were unable to afford the internet prior to. So now that they are able to have a computer and not have to pay each month, this has been a benefit. But can this be expanded? Definitely i think this is something we really need to look at. But until we get started here and see what the successes are currently, i don't know that we can branch off any further until we see exactly how this has been impacted.

CAVANAUGH: Well, i want to let our listeners know, if anyone would like to learn more about the digital divide, we have information on our website at kpbs.org. Even speaking with kimberly paul with the San Diego community housing corporation and Leo Sosa of one economy corporation. I want to thank you both for coming in and speaking with us.

PAUL: Thank you for having me.

SOSA: Thank you for having me as well. And looking forward to seeing more powerful programs like yours.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you.

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