Daley pushing tech literacy for all in Chicago

June 5, 2006

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

In the 21st century economy, "everyone needs to have access to computer technology to succeed in life," Mayor Daley says. "Computer literacy is a fundamental skill in the modern world."

Speaking in the library of Al Raby High School on West Fulton Street last week, Daley made it clear he's committed to helping Chicago and all Chicagoans remain competitive.

"China, India and Japan know that the way to grow their economies is to invest in technology, and we have to keep pace," Daley says. "In technology as in many other areas of our society, there's a wide gap between the haves and the have-nots."

Daley's aim is to help close the digital divide.

In an RFP issued last week, the city seeks companies that will partner to provide free or low-cost Internet access to every Chicagoan. Daley expects bidders to make a significant financial commitment to providing computers, software and train-ing to those who can't afford them.

For its part, the city will provide access to streetlights, lamp posts and other parts of the city infrastructure. The city is also offering $250,000 in grants to community groups to jump-start technology access.

The mayor also appointed MacArthur Foundation Vice President Julia Stasch -- his former chief of staff -- to chair an 18-member committee on Closing the Digital Divide.

Hardik Bhatt, CIO of the City of Chicago, says, "Where you don't have broadband access, people just don't have the necessary tools. This has a huge potential to positively impact economic development.

"We are not only asking for a technical solution to solve the problem of access, we are asking vendors to be creative and give us solutions that enable Chicagoans to use this technology for education and self-development."

The effort builds on the work of the City Council and Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) and Ald. Ed Burke (14th). They held public hearings and made the recommendations that spearheaded the initiative.

It could leapfrog Chicago ahead of Philadelphia and San Francisco, which are also considering public Wi-Fi initiatives. It could inject new juice in Chicago's tech economy.

Will it help Chicago's kids? You bet. In his latest book, Revolutionary Wealth, author Alvin Toffler reports on an experiment by New Delhi physicist Sugata Mitra.

Mitra placed a PC with high-speed Internet connection in a wall near the Sarvodaya Camp near a poor Indian slum. He monitored the PC with a remote camera.

Instead of looting the computer, the kids from the camp played with the computer, and taught each other to use the equipment. According to Toffler, Mitra's experiments demonstrate that computer literacy can be achieved by providing access to technology.

The city's program aims to make that a reality. It's a bold initiative fitting of the City of Big Shoulders.

Work-force opportunities

DiamondCluster Chief Development Officer Julie Harris moderates Wednesday's Executives' Club technology conference at the Chicago Hilton & Towers.

The focus is on managing the challenges and opportunities of a changing global work force.

Panelists include: Convergys SVP Peter Hirano, Motorola VP Toby Redshaw and CDW EVP James Shanks.

Name value

What's in a name? Chicago Internet entrepreneur Josh Metnick thinks geography-specific Web domain names are golden. He owns Chicago.com and Illinois.com.

Now Metnick is bringing likeminded city.com site owners together in Chicago.

"It's a cool thing to have in Chicago," says Metnick, who formed the city site association three years ago.

Last week's Associated Cities GeoDomain Expo 2006 at the Hyatt Regency brought together more than 150 city site owners. There's no word on whether the owners of NewYorkCity.com and WestPalmBeach.com hit it off with LagunaBeach.com and Barcelona.com.

One thing's for sure: Their domain names are precious property.

Bits & Bytes

Mike Lazaridis, co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, keynotes today's launch of Globalcomm 2006. Also speaking at Globalcomm today are FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Orange CEO Sanjiv Ahuja.

The global telecommunications conference is at McCormick Place through Thursday.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.

 

 ©2006 Marion Consulting Partners