Volunteers Restore Net Access for Katrina Victims

ByABC News
September 5, 2005, 3:06 PM

Sept. 6, 2005 — -- A week after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, some are turning their labors to restoring another vital piece of American life: access to technology and the Internet.

High-tech companies are stepping in to rebuild the digital communications and computer networks desperately needed by those in the hurricane-ravaged areas. Just one example -- Intel, Microsoft, Dell, SBC Communications and others have pledged money, equipment and personnel to create a wireless data network to help the American Red Cross link together hundreds of its evacuation centers.

While such networks will help coordinate relief efforts, other efforts are being made to hook up refugees. For the tens of thousands of evacuees now residing in the Astrodome sports complex in Houston, SBC has set up 1,000 telephone lines for free local and long-distance calling. It has also set up free high-speed Internet access through its SBC Yahoo! DSL service.

Smaller nonprofit organizations and individuals also are answering the call to provide Net access to survivors. At various technical Web sites, gangs of software developers, computer network specialists and high-tech volunteers are organizing to build large numbers of public Internet terminals that can be quickly deployed at the various evacuation centers scattered throughout the Gulf Coast region.

The key, say the Net activists: Using "open source" software -- programs that are collaboratively built and freely distributed online -- on old computers donated by individuals and companies.

And such unique approaches are already having a positive effect.

In McKinney, Texas, about 10 volunteers were able to set up 25 public access terminals in a Wal-Mart store now serving as a hurricane relief center for victims from New Orleans. The Web center was established using PCs donated by Hotels.com, based in nearby Dallas, and a high-speed wireless Internet connection provided by the new Wal-Mart store located across the street.