Expanding computer ownership and high-speed Internet access throughout the Bronx and New York City as a whole was the theme of the 2008 Bronx Technology Collaborative Conference.
Held Oct. 4 at the McGinley Center Ballroom on Fordham’s Rose Hill campus, the event was created and hosted by Steven D’Agustino and Theresa Lupo of the RETC—Center for Professional Development. RETC staff and administration, as well as 20 community based organizations and Fordham departments, were on hand to offer information about job training programs, technology resources, college programs, computer skills and education programs for adults. “Over 150 students, teachers and parents from the Bronx Community attended,” Lupo said.
Manhattan City Councilwoman Gale R. Brewer, who in 2005 established the City Council’s Broadband Advisory Committee, was the keynote speaker. The broadband committee has traveled to all five boroughs to listen to teachers, students, small business owners and others to gain a better understanding of their broadband needs and to develop creative ways to solve their technology problems.
“Broadband technology has made the world sort of flat,” Brewer said, “so that in a growing number of places, anyone with a laptop and a broadband connection can now compete in the broadband economy.”
She went on to praise the role that Fordham has played in expanding broadband access in the Bronx, noting that in the absence of a clear national policy on expanding high-speed Internet access, it was critical for the private and public sectors to come together and offer their own answers to the question of the digital divide.
“We need to think of how technology can be friendly to consumers,” Brewer said. “Just as the private sector has made it such, it’s not clear that government has done the same.”
Technology is not a new subject for Brewer, who said she has been interested in the topic for 20 years. But now, with the advent of faster Internet access, the computer is positioned to change society for the better even more than it already has. It is imperative, she said, that the benefits of broadband be available to everyone, not just those who can afford it.
To that end, Brewer is directing her committee to look for ways to expand computer access to senior citizens, the poor and others who have been traditionally underserved. While she pointed out that universal wireless Internet is too costly for the city government to install and maintain, her committee is searching for ways to expand broadband connectivity. In addition to increasing high-speed Internet access in schools, after-school centers and senior centers, Brewer is examining the feasibility of wiring public parks with broadband, making each not only an urban oasis but a wi-fi hotspot.
“All of these things are being addressed by the mayor’s office, by the city council, and at least they’re now out in front,” Brewer said. “There’s opportunity in the sky; there’s opportunity on the ground.”
The RETC—Center for Professional Development provides access to technology to students and their families through its recently opened 21st Century Community Learning Center, funded by a five-year $2.4 million grant.