Wireless Harlem Initiative signs consulting firm to develop plan: The non-profit's goal is to bring affordable and widely available broadband to the historically African-American neighborhood that went through one boom and crash in the 20th century, only to start its latest renaissance as that centennial closed. They've hired Civitium, a consulting firm that's been involved in many municipal requests for information and proposals (RFI/RFP) for wireless networks.
I've talked to Greg Richardson, a principal and founder of the firm, a number of times, and have always been relieved at how frank he is about the limits of the technology, the political issues involved, and the financial challenges. If you know which RFPs the firm has written or consulted on, it becomes clear that network neutrality is of primary importance as they appear able to get most RFPs to include an enshrined portion for open, wholesale, non-discriminatory access to content, competitors, applications, and devices. For instance, here's some straight talk from him on his blog in which he notes, "Present case studies in the industry as 'what worked and what didn't work,' as opposed to our typical approach to focus only on the positive outcomes of the initiative."
Harlem has 225,000 residents, and a vast amount of outside interest, as it is one of the founding and present centers of African-American culture. There's money waiting to be spent, clearly, on any efforts that can improve the quality of life, education, and financial status of the area's residents.
While regular readers of this site know that I am dubious about digital divide projects that focus entirely on "give them computers and the rest will come," I am entirely supportive of efforts that combine community input into what services are delivered, that include training for general users as well as specialized training in administration, and that has a comprehensive plan with measurable results for the money invested in these efforts. If the goal is a reduction in high-school dropouts, an increase in test scores, a burgeoning of eBay sellers, an improvement in basic literacy, scores of new businesses being started, or efficiencies that reduce expenses through better use of existing technology--any or all of these can be achieved with good planning and good follow-through.
The Wireless Harlem Initiative states in its FAQ they'd like to have service up and running by Spring 2007. This move to hire the preeminent plan writers is a big step towards producing a biddable, buildable service.