Bridging the Digital Divide


by Mary Turck, 2/10/08 • Digital Inclusion Fund grants will help Minneapolis residents to get on-line and get involved. Internet access offers key tools for civic participation. Communicating with public officials is easier with e-mail. Neighborhood organizers use e-groups and networking. Web sites and e-newsletters communicate rapidly and at a low cost. Watchdogs post truth-checks on political advertising. News from across the world and around the corner is available at the click of a mouse.

Many people lack access to these internet tools. Some lack computers or internet access. Some lack the information and comfort level to use computers and the internet. They are on the wrong side of the Digital Divide.

In Minneapolis, a new, citywide wireless network is up and running. Wireless internet provides access without connecting to a telephone line. When the city network is complete, people will be able to use it not only in homes and offices, but also on park benches and street corners—anywhere in the city. The wireless network provides limited free access: to official city information and to a few other sites. For a monthly fee, the network will provide full internet access.

A Digital Inclusion Fund is part of the contract between the City of Minneapolis and US Internet Wireless (USIW), the company building the citywide wireless network. The Digital Inclusion Fund just made its first series of grants. The nine grants totaling $200,000 went to organizations across the city for programs to promote technology access and technology literacy.

Some of the grants will pay for hardware, for computers to be located in publicly accessible sites. Other grants will fund education and training to help people use computers and the internet.

The Twin Cities Media Alliance, which is the parent organization of the Twin Cities Daily Planet, received one of the Digital Inclusion Fund grants. This grant will be used for recruitment and training of Minneapolis residents and neighborhood organizations. The training will help people and organizations to create local, relevant, and useful information to share on-line.

The TC Daily Planet offers a number of ways to share information. Anyone can contribute news, opinions and event notices.

• “Neighborhood” pages already display news and events for different areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul. (Go to the left-hand column, and click on the city or on the neighborhood drop-down menu to visit these pages.)

• The Free Speech Zone offers space for anyone to contribute news and opinions.

• Comment sections offer an opportunity to engage in dialogue about news articles.

Planet Cafe provides links to Minneapolis and St. Paul E-Democracy forums, as well as other ways to engage in civic dialogue.

We can provide a hands-on lesson tailored to your needs and questions. Some workshop examples are:

• Using the Twin Cities Daily Planet