Tag Archive | "Internet"

Drive-by Wi-Fi Coming to a Project Near You

A black van marked “Going Digital” in bold orange letters parked conspicuously  in front of the James Monroe housing project in Soundview one October morning.

The rare passerby who dared to knock on the door discovered a computer lab on wheels inside, with eight new laptops, broadband access, printers, and instructors at the ready to teach digital literacy.

This van and one other like it are part of a pilot project launched by the Housing Authority in February to help bring digital access to low-income New Yorkers.   The truck drivers travel to different neighborhoods in New York, including nine housing projects in the Bronx, offering free Wi-Fi and computer use from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The federal Broadband Technology Opportunities grant funds one van, while the city’s Housing Authority supports the other one.

The service is meant to help close the digital divide that is felt hard in low-income neighborhoods. “Let’s say people need to fill out food stamps or fill out an application for social security or for a job,” said Carmen Medina, 27, a digital van instructor who visits Castle Hill and Soundview in the Bronx. “And let’s say they don’t have the Internet, they don’t have a computer. To eliminate that despair, we have provided them with this.”

So far, use of the vans is hit or miss. Some days as many as a dozen people make use of the service, while other days no one comes knocking.

The “kind-of slow” days may be due to lack of publicity, said Anthony Gonzalez, assistant instructor and digital van driver.

Officials in the Housing Authority believe another factor might be at play. “If people believed in the value of the Internet, they would be on it already,” said Atti Riazi, chief technology advisor for the New York City Housing Authority. “So we are salespeople as well, teaching them the value of the Internet.”



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A laptop inside New York City Housing Authority's digital van, Sept. 10, 2012. The digital vans are part of a pilot project to help get more low-income people online. (Sonia Paul/ The Bronx Ink).

A 2011 U.S. Department of Commerce report shows a significant income gap between those who are connected with broadband at home, and those who are not. About 43 percent of people who earn between $15,000 and $25,000 have Internet connections at home. The figure is 75 percent for those who earn between $50,000 and $75,000.

The average family income in New York public housing is $22,824. Around 60 percent of homes in public housing developments are connected, Riazi said. Although people often access Internet through mobile devices, it’s no substitute for the kind of productive work the Housing Authority hopes to help people do.

The idea is to help with job searches and research. But Medina said Facebook and games tend to dominate Internet use among the people who frequent the van.

Projects to bring “drive-by Wi-Fi” exist in some developing countries like India, but Diane Chehab, an information technology specialist who works for New York Housing Authority, said this mobile Wi-Fi program is the only one she knows of in the United States. The program is not expensive, she said, but funding is a concern — the grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities program lasts through 2013.

Chehab said around 700 people have frequented the mobile computer labs since the program’s inception in February. The first van is busier than the second one, which was added to the program in June. Officials expect more patrons with time.

Until then, the Housing Authority is considering putting flyers advertising the vans directly in residents’ rent invoices to increase their use.

On Sept. 17, a group of four children — a 10-year-old, two 11-year-olds and a 14-year- old — visited the van at its station in front of Castle Hill Houses. They spent an hour and a half playing games on Facebook and watching anime and parodies of the “Gangnam Style” Korean music video online.

But earlier in the morning, two adults visited the van.

“They were in their 40s, and they wanted to learn how to sign up for an email account,” Medina said. “So I helped them set up their first emails.”



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DIGITAL BRONX: Brothers bypass record labels to promote music online

Rebel Diaz's Rodrigo and Gonzalo Venegas sell their music online

By Manuel Rueda

Gonzalo Venegas and his brother Rodrigo have been rapping about social inequalities since the 1990s.

Based in the south Bronx—the cradle of the hip-hop movement—the two brothers use the Internet to share their work with fans across the world.

Known in hip-hop circles as the Rebel Diaz duo, the Venegas brothers blend hip-hop and Latin rhythms in songs about inner city youth, corrupt government and the problems faced by recently arrived immigrants.

The sons of political refugees from Chile, their songs are often bilingual, with lyrics in English followed by a chorus in Spanish or an English verse punctuated by Chilean slang.

The name Rebel Diaz is a take on the Spanish word for rebels, rebeldes.

Raised in Chicago, the Venegas brothers have created an online community—and built a fanbase— using the most common web tools of the modern age: Facebook, Twitter and their own web site.

On their Twitter account, they update their 1,500 followers about their upcoming concerts and share small snippets of their lives. Last Thursday, for example, the brothers informed followers they were watching their Chicago Bulls “put the bats” on Boston.

On Facebook, the duo will occasionally share articles on civil rights protests with their politically conscious fans.

But in other ways the Venegas are anything but typical web musicians.

Rebel Diaz does not promote its work on digital stores like iTunes. Despite being relatively well known in hip-hop circles, the duo doesn’t do deals with record labels to market their music on the web.

Albums go for $10 on the Rebel Diaz site

“If we wanted to take a route to give us mass exposure we would,” says 26-year-old Gonzalo. “But you have to remember, those labels are controlled by corporate interests that don’t want to hear the type of message that we’re putting forth.”

Instead, Rebel Diaz sells its material exclusively through its website, with tracks going for $1 and an album for $10.

And unlike online retailers like iTunes or Amazon that only provide short previews of the songs they sell online, Rebel Diaz lets you listen to the whole track for free. You only need to pay if you want to download the song or the album into your computer.

“Our experience as producers of music and consumers is that if people want to buy your music, it doesn’t matter if they listen to three seconds or one minute,” says Gonzalo Venegas, who goes by the artistic name, G1.

The younger of the two brothers, G1 explains that the group makes most of its sales “hand to hand” after their concerts. He believes that most of those buying Rebel Diaz’s records online are people who were not able to get their hands on a CD after one of their shows.

“Most people aren’t really hearing our music on our website. They’ll hear it on Democracy Now (a radio news show) or a friend will tell them about it, and at that point they’ll go to the site,” he says.

The band’s web presence helps the duo promote itself and sell albums, but the brothers make no secret about the fact that they rely on live performances to make a living. Last year, the duo rapped at 100 shows. And in May, it kicks off a month-long European tour that will take it to Germany, Greece and the United Kingdom.

For some extra income and to give back to the community, the Venegas brothers hold workshops on the history of hip-hop for students and youth groups in low-income neighborhoods.

“Even though the Internet is very important to us as a tool. It’s not the be all and the end all,” says G1. “The person to person contact, is probably the most important thing that we do.”

One of the group’s recent videos

Click here for more stories on the Digital Bronx.

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