Bridging the Digital Divide

The city of Houston launches another computer access location. The Burnett Bayland Community Center gives area youth and adults the opportunity to bridge the digital divide. Pat Hernnadez has more.

It is the second Community Access Location of the Gulfton Wireless Empowered Community Access Network, or WeCan. The Digital Inclusion Initiative began as a part of the citywide wireless project and is now being implemented by the Houston Public Library. Dr Rhea Brown Lawson is library director.

“We’re trying, with this project, to provide more points of access for more people and communities that, more than likely, don’t have a lot of technology or, if they have it, they’re not connected to the internet because it’s a cost. In today’s economy, that’s hard for families. But, at the same time, if you’re not connected, you’re really behind.”

Nicole Robinson is director of the Digital Inclusion Project. She says WeCan provides high- need neighborhoods not only with affordable internet access, local content and opportunities, but also services to ensure Houstonians benefit from the use of technology.

“Making sure that we first empower the organizations who are already providing these services. So, if we take for example, Family Road Literacy Center, they were an organization that had a computer lab, but they did not have internet access. They were an organization that did not have a web presence. And so, overnight, we’ve transformed how they’re able to do business, how they are able to provide programs. But, as a starting point, we started with the organization, and then it trickles down to the benefit for the end user.”

Joe Turner, director of Houston Parks and Recreation calls it an excellent partnership between Parks and the Library.

“The Parks Department has been behind with computers, and this gives us a perfect avenue to get into it, and in the most cost-effective way you can. We don’t have to create our own system, we work in through our partnership with the library, so it’s a great way to partner and expand those dollars that we have.”

He says the immediate beneficiary — the kids. 7th grader Daisy Centeno was busy at one of the computers when I arrived.

Do you have a computer at home? Yeah, but it doesn’t have internet. So, what do you hope to learn from this? How to do more things on the computer, how to do my homework and stuff. That would help a lot, right? Right. Thank you Daisy.”

Houston plans to launch up to 150 Community Access locations, and a free, trusted and secure portal will be made available to everyone throughout the City by the end of the summer.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.