Mayor's Office

Press Release

Houston Public Library Awarded $3.7 Million Federal Grant To Increase Public Computer Access, Connectivity Digital Inclusion Initiative to benefit from $5.9 million expansion


October 8, 2010 -- The City of Houston is pleased to announce the receipt of a major federal grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to upgrade and expand computing and Internet capabilities in high-need neighborhoods throughout Houston. The $3.7 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant, matched by $2.2 million in funds from respective partnering entities will allow the Houston Public Library (HPL) to provide Houstonians with greater access to broadband internet access and much-needed learning and economic opportunities through the City’s Digital Inclusion Initiative Wireless Empowered Community Access Network (WeCAN), which is managed by HPL.


"In the fast-paced environment of email, online banking and bill pay, and electronic job applications, we tend to forget that many of our residents cannot afford Internet access." said Mayor Annise Parker.  "What many of us may tend to take for granted simply isn't an option for thousands of Houstonians.  These grant dollars will help bridge that digital divide, giving a fighting chance to those who face difficulty competing and staying connected in the era of electronic communication."


"We are especially thrilled to receive this grant award because of the positive impact it will have on people’s lives," says Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, director of the Houston Public Library. "This grant will allow us to reach many more Houstonians who need reliable computer and broadband Internet access for homework assignments, job searches, online learning and other means of growth and self-improvement. By expanding the access to community based technology, more people throughout our city can now have access to online opportunities that could mean the difference between struggle and success."


The outreach for the WeCAN program includes numerous community partners from the education, non-profit, social-service, and private sectors. This proposal’s key partners include the Houston Area Library Automated Network, which includes libraries in six surrounding communities, Houston Community College System, the Houston Department of Health & Human Services Department, and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. Each partner is allocated a portion of the $3.7 million BTOP grant and will provide their portion of the $2.2 million in matching grants."


Houston Department of Health & Human Services Director Stephen Williams remarked, “This is an important opportunity to bring new computer access to many residents in our city. These computers will help those who do not have a computer at home to search for jobs, find resources, and even do their homework.”


“The Houston Public Library is a great partner and the digital inclusion initiative is a project that we are especially fond of,” said Houston Parks and Recreation Department Director Joe Turner. “Burnett Bayland Park was one of the original pilot sites when the WeCan program began a couple of years ago.  That site has been very successful and well received by the community. We are excited that the BTOP grant will allow us to offer the WeCan program at 15 of our H.P.A.R.D. community centers in the near future.”


Houston Community College Chancellor Dr. Mary Spangler said, “HCC is innovatively finding ways to serve all students across our communities. Through programs such as the Digital Inclusion Initiative, HCC is realizing its vision to become the most relevant community college in the nation. We are fulfilling our mission comprehensively and are extending resources out into the community collaboratively and efficiently as we bring access to learning to greater numbers. Meeting the needs of our students and the community serves to improve the quality of our human resources and, ultimately, our opportunities for economic development and enrichment.”


Houston Community College Trustee Dr. Michael P. Williams said, “The HCC Board of Trustees is proud of this initiative and the partnership of the City of Houston’s Health and Human Services and Parks and Recreation Departments and the Houston Public Library. Through our cooperative efforts we will be able to provide access to materials and resources that many Houston-area residents would not have. The Board supports this program that will bridge the gap between those who have access to technology and those who cannot afford it, making higher education more available to all.”


Houston Community College Trustee Neeta Sane said, “The primary beneficiaries of this program are low-income students who do not have the funds to pay for such high-tech instruments such as a laptop or iPod Touch. These new technologies are revolutionizing our learning processes, allowing access to materials from anywhere to anywhere. The electronic availability of books and materials is reducing the costs associated with higher education. This program will help make higher education more affordable to Houston-area residents.”


About the Grant

The combined $5.9 million in funding will significantly expand the reach of WeCAN in several ways:


  • Improve broadband Internet and computer access at 60 existing computer centers across 17 high-need neighborhoods.
  • Create 23 new public computer centers.
  • Equip the 83 new & existing computer centers with core offerings including: high-capacity wireless broadband connectivity and equipment; free network customer support; free “train the trainer” digital literacy training and workforce readiness job-skills training; and, up to ten new computer workstations per site and/or other broadband devices (i.e. Kindles, iPod Touches, web cams, etc.).
  • Obtain more than 1,800 devices and/or computer workstations for the new and expanded computer centers, including more than 400 Netbooks, 200 Kindles, 400 iPod Touches, 750 Macbooks, and ten computer workstations.
  • Extend first-time broadband access to 26 existing centers.
  • Expand access to technology at 60 conveniently-located public computer centers including Houston Public Library locations, Houston Department of Health & Human Services health centers, Houston Parks and Recreation Department community centers, and Houston Community College library branches.


These improvements of the WeCAN program are expected to increase the number of constituents using public computers and/or receiving other WeCAN program benefits by more than 23 percent. This increase translates into an additional 296,000 Houstonians using WeCAN public computers and training programs.


The impact of the new funding includes the expected creation of more than 55 full- and part-time jobs by staffing the public computer centers with trained “Civic Connectors” who will provide workforce and digital literacy training and help customers access online resources.


The funds are part of a larger grant awarded to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission for the statewide Technology Expertise, Access and Learning for All Texans (TEAL) project. The City of Houston’s portion will go toward expansion of the Digital Inclusion Initiative and training, programming or services for the community.


The overall TEAL project provides new or upgraded computer centers at more than 150 locations including 38 public libraries, community colleges, recreation centers and health facilities, as well as three mobile learning labs that will be used to provide computer training wherever it’s needed. The goal is to expand technology expertise and access so all Texans can learn, work and prosper.


For a complete list of project participants, go to


About the Partners – Roles & Information

Houston Public Library (HPL) & Houston Area Library Automated Network (HALAN) – HALAN is a consortium that provides library catalog, public access computing, and other technology services to six public libraries in the greater Houston, Texas area. Member Libraries include Bellaire City Library, Effie and Wilton Hebert Public Library (Port Neches), Houston Public Library, Marion and Ed Hughes Public Library (Nederland), Pasadena Public Library, and Port Arthur Public Library.


HPL will create new and expanded computer and broadband capacity at 47 libraries, including a consortium of libraries in surrounding HALAN partner communities. The primary core of instructors will consist of 14 Houston Public Library training staff that will be responsible for conducting train-the-trainer sessions to public computer center staff. HPL will work in partnership with other key city departments including the Information Technology Department and Department of Public Works and Engineering, as part of the Municipal Broadband Network to provide the broadband connectivity and network support. 


Houston Community College System (HCC) – HCC is one of the country’s largest singularly-accredited, open-admission, community colleges offering associate degrees, certificates, career and technology training and lifelong learning opportunities for 70,000 students each semester. HCC is composed of six colleges that serve the Greater Houston Area’s diverse communities by preparing individuals to live and work in today’s increasingly international and technological society. HCC has 14 well-established, fully staffed, and fully functioning libraries and electronic resource centers.


HCC’S Digital Inclusion Initiative partnership with the City of Houston will greatly enhance the accessibility of educational materials via broadband, providing digital resources, including Netbooks, iPod Touches, and Kindles, that will enable students to access e-books, e-audio-books, Open CourseWare, and streaming video. This service will bridge the digital divide and provide resources to all HCC students, especially in underserved neighborhoods. HCC has identified a total of 10 campus locations where broadband digital resources will be made accessible via campus libraries and computer centers.


Houston Department of Health & Human Services (HDHHS) – HDHHS will install new computers with broad band service at their 11 multi-service centers. In addition, HDHHS will provide one PC mentor for each site who will be trained to assist clientele with computer use and online services. The multi-service centers house many neighborhood services and agencies including WIC (Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program), Head Start, day care, after school programs and senior programs.


HDHHS provides core public health services such as air and water quality monitoring; restaurant inspections; lead paint safety; cancer screening and family planning for the uninsured; communicable disease prevention and control; disease surveillance; birth and death certificates; leadership in emergencies such as hurricanes; services to seniors; WIC programs; immunizations; and others.  HDHHS operates 11 multi-service centers, eight health centers, 16 WIC sites, the Harris County Area Agency on Aging, a regional reference laboratory, and multiple health and human service programs.


Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD) – The Houston Parks and Recreation Department stewards and manages over 38,992 acres of parkland and greenspace for the City of Houston.  It operates 59 community centers across Houston and develops and implements a variety of leisure and recreational programming for citizens of all abilities. A total of 15 new broadband computer and Internet public computer centers will be established in HPARD community centers across targeted neighborhoods.


About the Digital Inclusion Initiative

The Digital Inclusion Initiative began as a part of the City of Houston’s citywide wireless project and is now being implemented by the Houston Public Library. The network build-out includes deployment of 10 neighborhood networks which include broadband connectivity, education, training, equipment, and content development in high-need neighborhoods. The current WeCAN network extends through seven super neighborhoods, with the remaining three expected to be online by December 2010. The network provides Internet access through 16 community access locations in Gulfton, Third Ward and Fifth Ward Super Neighborhoods and includes the establishment of more than 65 WiFi Zones throughout these neighborhoods and also Sunnyside, Second Ward, Magnolia Park, and OST/South Union. WeCAN serves as the public access component of the City’s shared Municipal Broadband Wireless Network which also supports public safety and public services.


Through WeCAN, the Digital Inclusion Initiative provides high-need neighborhoods with free Internet access, local content and opportunities to receive training and equipment to ensure that Houstonians can benefit from the use of technology. These offerings are available in designated community access locations (CALs) including city facilities such as multi-service centers and park community centers, as well as schools and community-based organizations. CALs are identified based on location, accessibility, and services.


WeCAN community access locations receive community broadband access, including high-capacity wireless broadband connection equipment, free network customer support from the City of Houston, and free filtered high-speed Internet service. Technology training is provided, including “train the trainer” sessions, free online digital literacy and educational software from Houston Public Library and Microsoft, and free Houston Public Library services and resources. In addition, future participating locations will have the opportunity to qualify for equipment grants and discounted equipment through established partnerships.


The WeCAN neighborhoods have been selected and prioritized working in conjunction with the Council Committee on Technology Initiatives and Human Services. The current build out for WeCAN includes funding for 10 super neighborhood networks, including up to 150 CALs and 250 WiFi zones, to be established through June 2011. 


About the Houston Public Library

The Houston Public Library (HPL) operates 35 neighborhood libraries, three HPL Express Libraries, a Central Library, the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, The African American Library at the Gregory School, and the Parent Resource Library located in the Children’s Museum of Houston. Serving more than 4 million customers per year, HPL is committed to excellent customer service and equitable access to information and programs by providing library customers with free use of a diverse collection of printed materials and electronic resources, Internet, laptop and computer use, and a variety of database and reference resources with live assistance online 24/7.


For further information, visit the Houston Public Library at or call 832.393.1313.