Monday, June 25, 2007

Bronx Nonprofit Champions Broadband

The Bronx is steadily developing a reputation for being the home to nonprofits and businesses that make strides in bringing broadband telecommunication to all its residents. In 2006, Wired For Success profiled South Bronx Overall Economic Development Organization (SOBRO), Urban Television and Video, Per Scholas and the Digital Divide Partnership. Now it’s Mt. Hope Housing Company (Mt. Hope) and its CEO, Shaun Belle, that are in the news. Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) nominated Mt. Hope and two other New York entities for the 2007 Intelligent Facility Award. While the award went to another nominee (see Our Time Press, June 1, 2007), it is some feat to be recognized from contenders located across the globe.
Mt. Hope, a community development organization, set up a broadband network among its thirty-two buildings. The pilot project started in 2003 and included eight buildings. The original design consisted of one building serving as the base station. It was installed with CAT-6 cables, switches and routers located in the basement. Then, T-1 equivalent wiring runs up and through the walls to give juice to each apartment, ending at the roof. The roof was outfitted with a wireless access point that receives and transmits signals. This central building served the surrounding seven buildings that have antennae. These eight buildings permit two hundred low-income households to have high-speed Internet access. By 2007, all thirty-two Mt. Hope properties are wired using this configuration. Mt. Hope delivers online human services, business services and education services to 1,200 households. The current offerings are the family asset-building program and senior citizen computer training.

David Elcock, a Mt. Hope board member, stated, “Residents are charged between $12.00 and $20.00 for Internet access supplied by Verizon and DirecTV sends signals to the buildings. The cost to install the network was cheaper than a project of similar scope done in Manhattan.” This broadband infrastructure project was made possible through the concerted effort of Mt. Hope CEO Shaun Belle, One Economy, BCT Partners, and Dot Org Technologies. One Economy is a seven-year old national nonprofit whose mission is to maximize the potential of technology to help low income people improve their lives and enter the economic mainstream. One Economy’s Board of Directors include executives from Fannie Mae, Wired magazine, Cisco Systems, and the FCC. Elcock explains that what was “key to making the project affordable was Cisco Systems’ donation of switches and routers as well as the contracted installers agreeing to comparably lower pay scales.”

If Shaun Belle has his way, Mt. Hope will continue its drive in real estate development, family asset-building and broadband infrastructure expansion. Belle is a graduate of Howard University and Columbia University Institute for Nonprofit Management. He has served on boards of many community and economic development organizations and he is currently the Chairman of the NYC Broadband Advisory Committee. The NYC Broadband Advisory Committee was created to advise the mayor and the City Council on how to bring affordable broadband to all New York City residents, nonprofits and businesses. This committee will hold public hearings in all five boroughs to learn what’s at stake in making a high-speed Internet connection accessible to all New Yorkers.

It was the seat on the NYC Broadband Advisory Committee, followed by the Intelligent Facility nomination that brought Shaun Belle and The Bronx back into this columnist’s view. What is the Bronx and its nonprofits doing that the other boroughs need to do more of? In fact, The Bronx Borough President, Adolfo Carrion, hosted the first NYC Broadband Advisory Committee public hearing. One might have assumed Manhattan would have launched the public hearings. It’s home to Silicon Alley; it has the widest cable coverage and Councilwoman Gale Brewer, chair of the Committee on Technology in Government, represents the Upper West Side and Clinton. Is it a perception or a fact that The Bronx leads the way in bridging the digital divide? Keep reading this column for the answer.

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At June 25, 2007 at 10:58 AM , Blogger wheatgerm said...

seems like a gret place to be


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