Online panel boosts tech centers

America Connects Consortium, a nonprofit organization that supports community technology centers, is sponsoring a three-week online panel discussion to spark ideas for keeping the centers economically viable.

The online forum is the latest in a monthly series of moderated discussions that America Connects (www.americaconnects.net) has conducted through e-mail lists. It will feature about a dozen panelists who will kick-start the discussion with brief presentations and then field questions from the organization's 800-plus e-mail list subscribers.

The panel is co-sponsored by CTCNet, a nonprofit membership organization of 500 independent community technology centers.

Community technology centers have become a popular way to provide Internet access, computer training and other services in neighborhoods where such services are otherwise out of reach for many residents.

At issue is how community technology centers, which generally get their start with grant money, can continue to stay in business once the grant money runs out. It's analogous to the problems many Internet companies ran into when their venture capital funding dried up.

"[The panelists] will be focusing on what they see as some of the key areas a center needs to address in getting the support of its community," said Stephen Ronan, managing director of CTCNet. It's not just fund-raising, although that will be a component of it, he said. It's also successful volunteer recruitment, sound financial systems and good relationships with local government.

The online panel discussion begins Aug. 13. Typically, such discussions generate two or three messages a day, Ronan said. The list moderator, who otherwise has a minimal presence, helps keep the number of questions down by consolidating similar questions.

Only list subscribers, most of whom work in community technology centers, can take part in the panel.

For information on how to subscribe, go to www.americaconnects.net/interact. The transcript of the discussion will be available when it's over at www.ctcnet.org/americaconnects.

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