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Chicago Digital Access Alliance reacts to City CIO Position on Digital Excellence

Submitted on Mon, 03/05/2007 – 07:41.
Story by Michael Maranda

Mr. Hardik Bhatt, Chicago’s Chief Information Officer was the featured speaker at the February 28th luncheon of the Economic Development Council. His speech “Towards Digital Excellence in Chicago: Crossing the Digital Divide with Wi-Fi and Other Programs” reflects Chicago’s penchant big plans.

Mr. Bhatt listed four pillars of Digital Excellence for Chicago: Education, Economic Development, Digital Inclusion and Government Services/Public Safety.

Last Fall, the city issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) for deployment of a citywide wireless (wifi) network. The RFP is an official recognition and commitment to working to narrow or eliminate Chicago’s Digital Divide by requiring vendors to incorporate a Digital Inclusion strategy in their proposal.

The concept of Digital Inclusion has gained currency as cities consider deploying wireless networks. It’s a new spin on the Digital Divide. Inclusion is clearly a good direction, and brings social justice back into the public debate.

Promoting partnerships in the global economy is part of a plan for  Digital Excellence proposed by the Chicago Digital Access Alliance (CDAA.)

CDAA is monitoring the implementation of municipal WiFi because they fear that “digital excellence” might be used as a gimmick to connect the city with a WiFi network without efforts to address issues related to the digital divide and access to the network.

Currently the content of the proposals are unknown and unavailable to the general public because of the city’s procurement process. The vendors’ Digital Inclusion plans aren’t open to public scrutiny.

You will have to understand that I am biased in favor of a vigorous public discourse on these matters: I am one of the founding members of the Chicago Digital Access Alliance (CDAA), a city-wide group committed to each and every neighborhood functioning as a vibrant community network.

We’ve been popularizing the notion of Digital Excellence since the City hearings on Closing the Digital Divide last September, when the Wireless RFP was released. CDAA has a clear position: neither Digital Inclusion, nor the much preferred goal of Digital Excellence can be left to the vendors, that’s not their expertise. The path to Digital Excellence must be grounded in community leadership and practical field expertise in digital literacy outreach and education.

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