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IBM to put NCs in public housing

Big Blue will participate in a cooperative project to bring NCs and computer training to an Oakland public housing development.

IBM (IBM) Wednesday will announce its participation in a project to bring network computers and computer training to residents of a public housing development.

Along with the City of Oakland, Pacific Bell, and Bridge West Oakland Housing, which owns the Acorn 1 housing project, IBM will join in a $1.2 million project to install a computer training facility in a downtown Oakland development. The program will employ IBM Network Stations.

The program is designed to make computer training accessible to low-income residents, including welfare recipients, who otherwise would find it difficult to access such training.

After the 206 apartments of the Acorn 1 project are wired, Oakland will move on to its cousin, Acorn 2. Beyond that, there will be plenty of opportunities for IBM to provide its services: A 1997 city ordinance states that every new housing project Oakland builds must be equipped for high-tech communications.

In what Oakland spokeswoman P.J. Ballard described as a for-profit endeavor, IBM will install two of its PC servers in the housing project and connect them by a local area network to its Network Stations in individual apartments. Network computers (NC) are touted by advocates as low-cost, low-maintenance devices that are also easy to use.

IBM will also provide the training materials, which will focus on basic skills like typing, word processing, and Internet navigation. The company and the city will work with local businesses to design the program curriculum and to place graduates of the program in jobs.

"Although this is a for-profit venture for us, IBM is contributing nearly $240,000 in discounts on products and services to help ensure its success," said Bernard Bowler, IBM's industry executive for government and higher education in California. "We're delighted to be involved in this unique and very worthwhile project."

Through a spokesperson, Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris issued the following statement: "I am excited about this unique partnership. While we expose young people to information technology, we also have the opportunity to educate adults, many of whom will enter the workforce as a result of welfare reform."

The project will take approximately one year to complete.