The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Austin Prometheus Project

Unfortunately, Anthony Gilbert's situation is not uncommon.

Anthony is a senior in high school.  He is a talented musician, an honor roll student and he aspires to study music in college.

He has a plan, he has a goal and he has the discipline to make it all happen.

Anthony now has a computer, and The HeliOS Project was privileged to give him one.

But there's one thing Anthony doesn't have...and probably wouldn't have for a while.

Anthony Gilbert has no access to the Internet.

Since 2005, The HeliOS Project has rebuilt over 1200 computers and distributed them to disadvantaged and exceptional students in the Austin area.

Anthony is both but we will emphasis exceptional.  He works after school, but the money he makes goes to help his dad with the bills and his own academic needs.  Anthony and his dad live in a small home right off of 12th street in East Austin.
Anthony and his Dad Albert outside their home after a HeliOS install

He buys his own clothes, helps provide his household with food and what is left over...well that goes to guitar strings and patch cords.  Anthony takes the bus anywhere he goes...he does not own a car.

Our closest estimates tell us that just over 60 percent of the 1262 computers we've distributed still remain unconnected to the Internet.

And it's bothering me more and more.

It bothers me to the point that I've organized a sub-effort under The HeliOS Project.

The Austin Prometheus Project.

We will set up a dedicated fund to provide our HeliOS kids with Internet service.  Now, the point I want to make clear is this.  This is an Austin problem and I am going to seek an Austin solution.  We'll update our website soon to announce the presence of the program and to make people aware of it.

I'm going door-knocking.  I will approach businesses within the community to let them know what we are doing and what they can do to help.

Often, the families that we present computers to will find a way to get connected...but for people like Anthony and his dad, it is a luxury.  It's instances like these that Austin Prometheus will focus.

To this point, and with few exceptions, we've been fairly well ignored.  Many Austin businesses and companies have been asked to help us when we needed it, and the results were poor.  Time-Warner, Clear and Cricket have been contacted about this problem and we were either ignored or our in-office appointments were canceled by them and never re-scheduled.

Regardless of how often we tried to reschedule.

In 2008, I was granted an appointment with an executive within Time-Warner's Corporate Responsibility Department.  After a 40 minute wait, I was asked by the receptionist what my appointment was for.  I explained that I needed to discuss  Internet connections for the disadvantaged.  An hour and 15 minutes after that, I was informed that the executive was called away unexpectedly and she would not return for the day.  She would contact me and reschedule the appointment.

The call never came and my subsequent calls were never returned.

How nice.

That's fine...what Austin business hasn't done for their own, the Free Software and Linux communities have stepped in and allowed us to do our work.

But not this time.

I've made arrangements for Time-Warner to connect Anthony's home to the Internet and I am going to pay for the first month and the setup fees from my own pocket.  I can't do this often but in this case, I believe it to be important.

We spent a 2008 and a good part of 2009 building a guerrilla or "bandit" network in East Austin. It worked fine while the user base was at 30 homes or less but as it grew, we experienced more and more problems.  Not in just lost connectivity but in failing or vandalized equipment and directionals.  It got to the point where we were spending inordinate amounts of time just keeping the network up.  Unfortunately, due to lack of manpower and resources, we had to let it go.

But as far as this project goes... 

All I ask you to do is stand back and watch.  I want you to keep track of Austin Prometheus as I report our progress and results.

I will post them as they happen in real time.  We've set up a facebook page for that purpose.

All-Righty Then


PV said...

It's really a shame that so many people with computers still remain without any connections to the Internet. Awesome work, Mr. Starks.
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Anonymous said...

Hey, Ken -- I think this issue came up during Lindependence 2008 in Felton, Calif., or shortly thereafter (probably afterward, if I recall correctly), and I'm glad to see the "other half" of the equation -- getting the new computer users connected -- is being addressed. If I recall correctly, we in Felton discussed approaching not the big corporate ISPs, but rather the mid- to larger-sized local ISPs like Cruzio, and in the Monterey Bay area to provide some connectivity in exchange for promotional considerations. I would think Austin has its share of midsized ISPs who can afford to offer several "accounts" in exchange for the PR value it provides. It's something to consider, and let me know if I can help you with the wording on the proposal(s).

Anonymous said...

I've made arrangements for Time-Warner to connect Anthony's home to the Internet

Why would you deal with a company that treated you so badly, as you report in your blog?

Unknown said...

@ anonymous,

It boils down to what is available and what works. I've had some dealings with Clear lately that left a bad impression with both their service and their business practices.

Of course, non of the cricket or clear laptop dongles work with Linux so that's out of the question. Since AT&T makes it almost impossible to connect with Linux, Roadrunner is the obvious choice. I don't nor ever have I had a problem with them as a service company.

Their stance toward helping us sucks. I wouldn't have minded so much if they looked across the desk and told me no but to obviously dodge us is another matter.

Anonymous said...

Wireless Mesh?

Unknown said...

What ever happened with the Austin wireless initiative? I've gone to the website - it's looked good... However, I was never able to establish contact with anyone. (My emails went unanswered.)
We need a community mesh similar to the FreiFunk OLSR/B.A.T.M.A.N. initiative.

Curt- said...

When does it become time to post the names of these "executives" who refuse to even give you the respect of a response?

"Corporate Responsibility", as if.

Anonymous said...

You may want to look into the project by DIIRWB => I don't know how active they are these days, but they had great success distributing broadband connections to an area without any.

S. Rajagopal said...

Greetings from India,

Just wondering.

Now that you have the magical K figure under the belt, why not approach AT&T Roadrunner and the such seekiking help under Ecncouraging education as a part of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Usually in India, for getting permission private hospitals in India, one has to set aside a certain percentage of beds to poor and needy.

Members who are reading helios' blog and who are customers of the internet providers can help spread the message using their support channels such as a mail/chat etc with their respective ISP.

Will that help?

Again Kudos for what you are doing. The best part is your intention that we should give that which any will cherish.



Unknown said...

@ curt

She is no longer with TW so there would be no damage points given for naming her.

It would be too easy for them to dodge the question. This time...not so much.

Martin Owens said...

I'm unclear on what it is you're planning... or will it be a surprise?

Unknown said...

@ Martin...

No surprises. As we approach businesses and ISP's. we'll post the results of these contacts. I've set up a facebook page so that these meetings and contacts can be reported closer to real time.

MrSums said...

1. Can you guys not do a deal with the FON wifi guys and set up hotspots to cover several people at a time? - or are they all over the place.

2. Do a wifi snoop in the neighbourhood and see if any neighbours would like to share their internet

Anonymous said...

AT&T offers a much better deal ($15 month), and after the initial DSL router is configured (difficult without MS-OS) Linux works fine.
An Austin Linux Developer

Anonymous said...

I've used the USB dongle (Sierra Wireless) from AT&T without any issues on a Kubuntu netbook. Literally, plug and surf. For the CDMA dongles (like Cricket, Verizon, etc.) you have to 'register' it with Windows. Once registered, it works just fine in Linux. Of course the biggest downfall is the cost of the service.

Unknown said...

@ anonymous RE: AT&T

No, we were treated less than cordially when we approached them about creating a solution that would allow Linux users to register and activate their accounts. It came down to either use Windows or find another provider. In response, we prominently posted a warning to potential AT&T customers about this. I really don't care how cheap it is, If I have to go back with a windows laptop and set up their internet, it's not worth our time or theirs. Besides. there is always this...

"In the upcoming weeks, AT&T customers are going to start receiving notices that their broadband services are going to have a monthly cap,

twitter said...

Look to Tacoma, WA or Lafayette, LA for the answer, municipal networks. These put the community in charge and provide much better service and competition than the pathetic cable monopolies that most of the US suffers with. If you don't demand it, who will? If no now, when?

Thanks for keeping up the good fight. Your work is always inspiring.