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Houston Public Library: WeCAN (Wireless Empowered Community Access Network)

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Houston Public Library: WeCAN (Wireless Empowered Community Access Network)

Houston Public Library


Innovation Synopsis


The skills necessary to work, prosper and participate in current society are tied to the ability to access and use information and communication technology tools. While Houston has a reputation for its technological innovation, a digital divide exists and many Houstonians have yet to experience the significant civic, educational and economic benefits of the information age. According to the Pew June 2009 Report on Home Broadband Adoption, populations that are less likely to have home broadband access include those with a high school diploma education or less, senior citizens 65 or over, and African Americans (AA). Significantly, income is also a factor; households with lower income levels also show lower levels of broadband use and are less likely to afford the requisite hardware and Internet access. A 2008 SRC Data Survey of targeted underserved Houston neighborhoods found that of 180K households, 47% live at or below poverty and have incomes less than $25K, 40% or more of the residents are AA or Latino, 24% of the households reported home broadband access and 76% did not. For those without any home access, libraries, ranked among top places where Internet is accessed. Libraries often have the deepest reach in underserved communities, they are essential in the effort to make access to broadband and digital literacy training more accessible. However, as demand for this access and training continues to increase, the need for additional capacity and more centers is critical.

Key Elements of Innovation

Operated under the Houston Public Library, the City’s Digital Inclusion Initiative, WeCAN, was established to bridge Houston’s digital divide. Implemented in partnership with key stakeholders, WeCAN’s goal is to make broadband Internet more accessible in high need neighborhoods through the creation of “neighborhood networks” of access, awareness, programs and services. The deployment of the networks includes affordable broadband Internet access, opportunities to receive low-cost hardware and training, and relevant content to ensure benefit from the opportunities enabled. Community members within these neighborhoods take advantage of WeCAN via qualified Community Access Locations (CALS) such as libraries, schools and community-based organizations as well as strategically placed WiFi zones. WeCAN’s full implementation calls for deployment of more than 25 networks, impacting over 500K residents. The current build out includes funding for 10 networks, including up to 150 CALS/250 WiFi zones, established through 2010.

Achieved Outcomes

Since the 2008 launch, the following milestones/accomplishments have been achieved:

  • Established next generation technical infrastructure; phased launch of 6 neighborhood networks
  • Established 16 Community Access Locations (CALS) and 60 WiFi zones
  • 15K unique network users; 5K residents per month benefiting from the access and training enabled
  • Recipient, record $4.5M from Microsoft Corp to launch public/private workforce readiness model
  • Recipient, 2008 Houston Active and 2009 Technology Solutions Awards