MIAMI-DADE BROADBAND COALITION: ON A MISSION TO BRIDGE SOUTH FLORIDA’S DIGITAL DIVIDE
But that’s about to change.
After two years of very low key, yet fruitful work, the coalition is actively recruiting municipalities, institutions, businesses and professionals like yourself onto its cause.
What’s in it for you, you ask? Plenty! Membership in MDBC is a rewarding experience on all counts: While collaborating on a community-oriented program that connects the disadvantaged to the web —opening the doors to previously unattainable information, education, training, and employment opportunities—, you and your company gain access to a wealth of internet and related services, such as web hosting, backup, disaster recovery, colocation, and cloud computing, and discounts.
ACCESS TO INFORMATION VIA THE WEB: A CATALYST FOR GROWTH
The Miami-Dade Broadband Coalition was formed to bring together entities from every segment of our community —municipalities, education, healthcare, industry, commerce, manufacturing, as well as professional, trade and non-profit associations— to collaborate in expanding the internet’s reach, use and benefits.
“There were actually two separate movements that were going on,” explains MDBC’s executive director James Osteen. “First, the Knight Foundation was looking to for ways of creating more informed and engaged communities, and saw making access to high-speed broadband as a vital component in achieving that goal.”
MDBC chair Jackie Zelman, director of the University of Miami’s Executive Information and Technology Institute, adds that the foundation sought to provide the communities they serve which were seeking to increase the availability of high-speed broadband to their residents with information on the different models being tried around the country. Miami-Dade chose the One Cleveland model as the best option.
The program, which was renamed One Community, focused on bringing together similar anchor institutions that would share broadband and resources. The original model called for cultural and educational institutions to be connected prior to expanding into the community.
When it came to implementing the model in South Florida, things were different. Northeast Ohio Other cities in the Knight Foundation plan had an abundance of unused fiber optic capacity to accommodate the program; Miami did not.
Peter Korinis, former City of Miami CIO, explains that, while “in Miami-Dade County we have limited availability of fiber in many of our communities, if we are to enhance the economic competitiveness of the area we must expand that fiber footprint.”
MDBC had hoped that the South Florida implementation of the local model would be enhanced by Federal Broadband initiatives, which allocated nearly $7 billion in grants for programs nationwide. Unfortunately, Federal infrastructure funding was allocated to rural connectivity initiatives, leaving the Miami-Dade to develop a sustainable method on its own to fund much needed digital literacy programs.
ELEVATE MIAMI: AN INGENIOUS AND DEFINING FACTOR
A third factor also came into play: Elevate Miami, an anti-poverty effort launched by then Miami mayor Manny Díaz prior to the implementation of the One Community program, focused developing digital inclusion initiatives to improve the socioeconomic status of its disadvantaged residents. Among the most successful programs was its collaboration with Miami-Dade Public Schools and former MDCPS superintendent Rudy Crew.
As head of Miami’s information technology operations, Peter Korinis witnessed one of the planning sessions: “I was impressed at how mayor Díaz and superintendent Crew planned and worked this program. It wasn’t just bringing computers and kids together. It was all about providing life training and skills, beginning in the third grade and all the way up to the seniors.”
For MDBC chair Jackie Zelman, Elevate Miami was nothing short of ingenious.
“Most of the digital inclusion programs that I had seen for 25 years centered around libraries. Traditionally, lifelong learning has been a library initiative. Then technology came into libraries in the early 80s when they digitized their collections and learned very quickly how to disseminate information digitally.”
By the year 2000, however, many youngsters characterized libraries as “uncool or not hip.”
“The parks were the place where kids went to play ball and get together with friends. When [Elevate Miami] introduced computers into that environment and provided training, they captured the segment of our youth that needed that digital inclusion training the most, and by doing so, they got the parents, the grandparents as well.”
Through Elevate Miami, bridging the digital divide became a family activity. Today, the program has learning centers at 35 City of Miami’s parks. Depending on the facility on site, between four to over 30 computers are available for technology coaching classes with volunteers or internet access.
“Then we went to the senior centers,” Korinis explains. The first senior-oriented web access and training center, at Gesu Catholic Church in downtown Miami, began in a small room in the rectory and has expanded considerably because of increased participation.
MIAMI-DADE BROADBAND COALITION: TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Once Elevate Miami met the Knight Foundation’s One Community and the Federal Broadband Initiatives, digital inclusion programs would never be the same. This union of ideas, effort, strategies and funding brought forth the Miami-Dade Broadband Coalition.
In addition to coordinating activities at the digital learning and activity centers, identifying potential new sites, recruiting volunteers, and securing equipment donations and financial support for its programs, the MDBC, now into its third year of operations, has a strategic objective for 2011: To shed its status as “Miami’s best kept secret” and vigorously enlist the participation of a larger cross-section of the area’s institutions, entrepreneurs and professionals.
Membership in the coalition, however, involves much more han paying monthly or annual fees, and attending networking and social events. Supporting MDBC is a win-win situation for all the parties involved. There are the intangible rewards, of course, reaped by assisting the disadvantaged in accessing the internet and use web-based systems that may enhance the users’ lives.
“Everything today is done online,” explains Jim Osteen. “So anyone that needs to search or apply for a job, file for unemployment, get any type of information about training, medications, or treatments, must do so through the internet.”
Member involvement helps recruit volunteer trainers for the centers, and obtain new and used equipment donations, as well.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME? PLENTY
But what surprises and pleases prospective coalition members the most is that they, too, may benefit from the organization through a series of discounted IT services and support.
How does this work?
The Miami-Dade Broadband Coalition amasses the buying power of its largest members —institutions like Barry University, Miami-Dade College, Miami-Dade Public Schools, University of Miami, Miami Science Museum, Mount Sinai Medical Center, Florida East Coast Realty, Comcast, US Gas & Electric, Inktel,TW Telecom and Vitaver & Associates, and South Florida Hospital & Healthcare Association, and municipalities such as Doral, Key Biscayne, Miami and Miami Beach. By buying or contracting these technology products and services in bulk, the organization negotiates favorable rates, robust discounts, and preferential levels of service/ support, all of which wind up benefitting the members’ bottom line and generating revenue that MDBC re-invests in its digital inclusion programs.
Moreover, members claim that the rewards for themselves and their companies go beyond achieving savings on services. The coalition, for example, has proven to be a superb source of fruitful, new business contacts and of invaluable information on the latest technological advances, garnered first hand at meetings and presentations by providers, developers and manufacturers.
Companies like Microsoft, Miami Data Vault, Optenet, FiberLight, MD Live Care, FPL FiberNet, and Terremark are MDBC members that collaborate with the group’s digital inclusion programs and regularly share their expertise with colleagues at the coalition.
IT’S TIME TO JOIN THE COALITION
Membership at the Miami-Dade Broadband Coalition, which recently received confirmation of its 501c3 tax exempt status, is open to area organizations and companies that recognize the need to bridge the “digital divide,” commit to participate in the group’s activities and further its mission, and are interested in the value-added benefits that accompany the affiliation to MDBC.
For information on the Miami-Dade Broadband Coalition, please visit http://www.miamibroadband.org or contact Jim Osteen, executive director, at 305.371.0340.