Archive.org founder talks free wifi with Richmond officials

Brewster Kahle, a major Internet entrepreneur, met with city officials, including Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, last month and discussed a possible free-access wireless Internet program for the city’s downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

Kahle, who founded the digital archiving site Archive.org, suggested placing WIFI antennas on public buildings, including on top of public housing structures, to help provide free wireless Internet access in the city, according to McLaughlin, city Information Technology Director Sue Hartman and Economic Development Administrator Thomas Mills.

The businessman and technologist, whose nonprofit organization has purchased a warehouse on Florida Avenue, also discussed a possible book-scanning program that has the potential to create jobs, McLaughlin said.

Hartman and Mills said that Kahle did not request any city funding but said they believe Kahle wishes to partner with the city to find funding for the programs.

Kahle himself was relatively mum on the subject last week, saying he believes it is premature to publish a news article and that, right now, there is simply a wireless Internet antenna on the roof of the Florida Avenue warehouse and that people are welcome to connect to it. He called the discussion with the city “less than a talk” and said it was simply an introductory meeting.

In an earlier e-mail, Kahle wrote, “What we have done is put up a high speed public antenna on our property on Florida Avenue in Richmond. We have found a small number of people [who] have discovered it and are using it. We are looking for organizations to help spread this bandwidth to the residents of Richmond as ‘Fast and Free Internet.’ What this requires is people putting antennas and repeaters on their roofs. But it is early stage.

“If you would get the word out that we are interested in finding organizations or people in the city or county, that would help spread fast and free internet access.”

Hartman said Kahle and another Archive.org representative “were basically pitching the idea that we could collaborate with them on ideal locations that the city owns” on which to place WIFI antennas. She said an idea discussed in the meeting with Kahle was to make public WIFI available downtown and in the surrounding flatlands. But she said the idea is still just that.

“There is an interest from the city in following up with this but I don’t have anything substantial to offer as far as a project plan or a timeline at this point,” Hartman said. She said the city hasn’t received a direct proposal and that things are still in “the talking stages.”

McLaughlin said the same thing — “It’s in a very early discussion stage.”

“The proposal was to enter into a partnership with the City of Richmond, the library, and to scan books that the library has and make them accessible to folks in the community,” said Nicole Valentino, a community advocate in McLaughlin’s office who was at one of the meetings with Kahle. “And as part of the accessibility feature, they wanted the city to identify rooftops on which they could place very small WIFI antennas.”

Velentino said Kahle met with the city administrators on September 6 after an initial meeting with McLaughlin.

Library and Cultural Services Director Katy Curl was there. She said the Richmond library is looking into donating surplus books to the Florida Avenue warehouse.

An Associated Press story published in July 2011 said that Kahle has a goal of saving “a physical copy of every book every published” and that he is storing books in the Richmond warehouse.

Kahle’s biography on the Archive.org website describes Kahle as a “Digital Librarian and Founder of the Internet Archive who has been working to provide universal access to all knowledge for more than twenty-five years.” He founded a company that was sold to America Online and co-founded another that was purchased by Amazon.com

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