Students Can Get Wired With TechConnect Project
September 15, 2006 8:08 PM
For the technologically or economically disenfranchised student, San Francisco’s TechConnect project shines down like a beacon of hope.
A little more than a year after the city first released a request for information and comment on the project, negotiations to provide all San Francisco residents with affordable wireless Internet access are still in place.
“We’re hoping to have negotiations done in November. We’re actually quite pleased with the progress that has taken place,” said Ron Vinson, administrative officer of San Francisco’s Department of Telecommunications and Information Services, which will run TechConnect.
One of the aims of TechConnect is to provide underserved communities with the same opportunities others in the city enjoy via the Internet.
Because the Internet has become an integral part of many educational, economic and even social institutions, many in such communities may find themselves at a growing disadvantage in a rapidly digitizing world.
According to Vinson, the city thinks that without equal access to such a resource there are inevitably people left without a voice.
Progress toward easing this “digital divide” could begin as soon as next year.
“We would like to have pilots identified by the first quarter of 2007,” Vinson said. “We are in favor of pilot programs because we want to test the performance and reliability of the network.”
To some, this prospect offers a glimpse of a future without dingy Internet cafes, stolen Wi-Fi from a neighbor’s connection, or deficient dial-up services. For others it is a nightmare, complete with visions of Wi-Fi antennas showering the city with harmful rays of radiation.
Doug Loranger, founder and spokesman for the San Francisco Neighborhood Antenna Free Union, SNAFU, said if enough antennas are installed throughout the city for the TechConnect project, the levels of radio frequency radiation could increase to a level that would pose some serious health threats.
According to SNAFU’s Web site, “EPA scientists concluded that the two most important signal characteristics used in cellular communications are possible and probable human carcinogens.”
As far as some students are concerned, these potential health risks are of little consequence.
Evan Bangham, 23, a student at City College of San Francisco and prospective SF State student, has been living without Internet in recent weeks because, “I was stealing from my neighbors, but they found out and locked me out.”
Life without Internet has been “kind of a hassle,” and the prospect of affordable Wi-Fi is appealing to Bangham.
“As long as there were no long-term contracts I’d probably be all game for it,” he said.
In regards to the health risks posed by radiation from a citywide Wi-Fi system, “Let me say it plainly: I think that’s complete bullshit,” said Bangham.
For students with Internet access already, TechConnect is potentially a more attractive option than the services they currently pay for.
“I don’t think services are affordable for a single person,” said George Gomez, 26, an SF State molecular biology major.
Gomez, like many students, shares his Internet connection with roommates, making it more affordable.
A friend of Gomez, SF State student Brandon Hibbs, 22, agrees that many Internet services are not affordable for students, but also can’t imagine life without Internet access.
“Oh my God, I would have such shitty grades,” Hibbs said.
Too many students are dependent on Internet access to go without it, and many courses use online programs, such as Blackboard, that require students to be able to sign on in order to complete their assignments.
Sounding a growing opinion of the Internet’s function in society, Hibbs pointed out, “It just makes things easier.”
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