1st Public Computing Center Opens in Center City

April 27, 2011 — As Paul Green checked his email yesterday at the gleaming new computer lab at Philadelphia FIGHT, located at 12th and Locust streets, he also represented progress in bridging the digital divide.

“I think it’s beautiful, it’s marvelous,” Green, 38, said of the center, which opened a few weeks ago. Once or twice a week, he comes to the building to use the Internet and take computer classes because he doesn’t have a computer at his North Philadelphia home. Forty-one percent of Philadelphians are in the same position, according to Freedom Rings Partnership, a venture between grass-roots organizations, government and universities formed to address the digital divide.

But thanks to the partnership members’ efforts and an $18.2 million federal stimulus grant, computer access is about to become easier.

Mayor Nutter, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and others cut the ribbon yesterday on the lab, the first of 77 free computer centers that will open around the city.

Philadelphia FIGHT, which stands for Field Initiating Group for HIV Trials, provides services to individuals with HIV/AIDS and those who are at high risk for the disease. The center now has 10 new computers in addition to the six older ones that previously provided computer access in its library.

“This is a proud, proud moment,” Nutter said. “This is the future of the city.”

Both Nutter and Brady also cited the computer centers as an example of how the federal stimulus bill can impact individuals. “It makes me want to vote for [the stimulus] all over again,” Brady said.

The labs will be run by the city and nonprofit and education groups, and will offer digital-literacy training. The Philadelphia FIGHT center offerings range, for example, from “basic computing 101” to training about social media and blogging, said education director Juliet Fink.

Computer labs will open in homeless shelters, recreation centers and drug-recovery houses. “The real idea is that you build the computer centers where people already go for assistance,” Fink said. The city hopes to have all the centers open by the end of summer, Fink said.

“Only 76 more to go,” Nutter said.

 By NAOMI JAGODA, Philadelphia Daily News, jagodan@phillynews.com

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