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In Internet Accessibility, Seattle is Stepping Up to the Plate

By Elke Hautala

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential… So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st Century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).

Author and inventor Ray Kurzweil presents us with one of the best reasons to stay connected in the digital age. He also has quite a few ideas on the eventual merging of man and machine – but let’s save that for another day.

If you’re like me, approaching 40, beginning to watch younger and younger kids master ever more complex and tiny computers – you can see how important it is to make technology available for everyone in the community. In this period of “exponential growth,” not having access to the right tools could create an ever-widening disadvantage from an early age.

Seattle has an amazing array of tech companies and savvy citizens but what about those in the lower income brackets?

It turns out there are quite a few resources for Seattleites looking to connect to the web or improve their tech ability within their home or outside in their community.

Let’s start with keeping homes connected. For some of us, our day is driven by our connection to devices. Our first glimpse in the morning is at our phone and we end the day with the satisfied glow of Netflix on our TV or computer. A nouveau circadian rhythm developed for the 21st Century.

In many ways, this has become the norm for urban life and not having this connection creates difficulties with staying informed on local news, doing homework, watching entertainment and having diverse social interaction.

Fortunately for those on a fixed income, many companies are now offering very low cost Internet (and more) for those who qualify.

Once such program is Internet Essentials from Comcast. At only $9.95/month plus tax they provide high-speed Internet and in home WiFi. They even have an offer for purchasing a computer once you’re qualified for the program for those who are challenged by a lack of hardware.

It’s a national program that includes a Learning Center, zip code search for free classes and the opportunity for community advocates to partner with them to spread the word.

Moving to the world outside, you might venture a guess that Seattle is a very connected city…and you would be right. From parks to pools, libraries to low cost resources – the Emerald City pretty much has you covered.

Seattle Parks and Recreation is thrilled to be able to offer Seattle residents a free way to access the Internet via their local community centers,” says Rachel Schulkin, Media Specialist with Parks & Rec.

She adds, “Community centers (along with libraries) provide important spaces for community to gather, recreate and get connected to resources, Internet being an essential one of those resources.”

If you need a little more mobility with your connection but don’t have a lot to spend, there’s always the library. Libraries have long been a haven for those needing an easy, quick and free way to access the web but leave it to Seattle to take it one step further.

You can actually check out your own hotspot from the Seattle Public Library for 21 days. All you need is a valid library card. It’s Internet on the go for everyone.

Computers and other assistive technologies enable individuals with disabilities to be independent, productive, and included in society and community life,” said Jack Brummel, CEO of Northwest Access Fund.

His organization specializes in giving people with disabilities a way to improve their financial, educational and social situations through low cost loans.

80% of our clients are low to moderate income. Last year, almost 15% of our loans were made for the purchase of computers and related equipment, “ Jack informs me.

Photo: Heartstone Studios.

Photo: Heartstone Studios.

Nelson Mandela has a great quote about how a society is judged. That helping everyone in need, especially those who are facing challenges, is really what we should use as a rubric. Applying this guide to availability of Internet, Seattle is really stepping up to the plate. Bring on the 20,000 years of progress.

Find out more about Comcast’s Internet Essentials program here.

Read the full essay by Ray Kurzweil by clicking on this link.

Check out more information on Seattle Public Library and their hotspot program here.

Look into more details on the resources Northwest Access Fund has available.