The plan also calls for every American community to have at least one “anchor” institution, such as a school, library or hospital, that has ultra-high-speed Internet access. The FCC defines that as at least a gigabit per second, 10 times faster than the 100 megabits per second envisioned for home connections.
The Information Technology Industry Council lists these key elements of the plan:
- 100 Squared — equipping 100 million households with high-speed Internet gushing through their pipes at 100 megabits a second by the end of this decade.
- National Digital Literacy Corps to organize and train youth and adults to teach digital literacy skills and enable private sector programs addressed at breaking adoption barriers.
- Make 500 megahertz of spectrum newly available for broadband within 10 years, of which 300 megahertz should be made available for mobile use within five years.
- Revision of outdated universal broadcast service, inter-carrier compensation, and rights of way regulations to ensure affordable access to broadband.
- Ensure America’s innovation leadership.
- Improve online security, including stronger cybersecurity and clarification of privacy obligations to better protect personal, corporate and government data.
The recommendation for National Digital Literacy Corp modeled after Americorps. The following is directly from the document: I have highlighted key section in bold & red font.
Recommendation 9.3: The federal government should launch a National Digital Literacy Program that creates a Digital Literacy Corps, increases the capacity of digital literacy partners and creates an Online Digital Literacy Portal.
- Congress should consider providing additional public funds to create a Digital Literacy Corps to conduct training and outreach in non-adopting communities.
- Congress, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should commit to increase the capacity of institutions that act as partners in building the digital literacy skills of people within local communities.
- Congress should consider providing additional public funds to IMLS to improve connectivity, enhance hardware and train personnel of libraries and other community-based organizations (CBOs).
- OMB consulting with IMLS should develop guidelines to ensure that librarians and CBOs have the training they need to help patrons use next-generation e-government applications.
- Congress should consider funding an Online Digital Literacy Portal.
An independent study commissioned by the FCC and conducted by the Social Science Research Council used qualitative research techniques to examine broadband adoption and use in context, particularly in low-income communities. The report draws on focus groups, interviews and group conversations with non-adopters, librarians, community organizers, teachers, human service workers, health professionals, AmeriCorps volunteers and others involved in supporting digital literacy and broadband use in their communities.
The report highlights the important role of communities in supporting digital literacy: Non-adopters and new users often rely on the assistance of others to get online or get one-on-one support when they use the Internet. As the FCC Survey and a recent survey by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found, these are most often family and friends, or trusted intermediaries like librarians and social service providers. Very rarely, however, is it someone’s only job to provide technical assistance or training in their community.
The federal government should ensure that all citizens have access to the online and offline resources they need to develop basic digital literacy by launching a National Digital Literacy Program. Such a program would have three closely related parts: the creation of a Digital Literacy Corps, a commitment to increasing the capacity of local institutions that act as partners in building digital literacy and the creation of an Online Digital Literacy Portal.
Creating A Digital Literacy Corps
Many digital literacy training programs, both in the United States and abroad, rely on face-to-face training provided by trusted resources within local communities. Whether using intergenerational training that allows youth committed to community service to train senior citizens, peer-to-peer training that enhances connections among seniors or youth or mentoring models under which skilled college graduates reach out to underprivileged citizens, these programs have helped non-adopters become more comfortable with technology while also fostering volunteers’ commitment to community service and increasing their confidence.
Efforts to date have provided valuable lessons; a national program can build on these successful models and ensure the scale needed to address digital literacy barriers. To address this national need, Congress should consider providing additional public funding for NTIA to create a Digital Literacy Corps. In collaboration with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), NTIA should design and administer a Corps that builds on recognized best practices for both national service and technology learning.
NTIA and CNCS can explore best-practice models for building and managing the Corps, leveraging lessons learned from existing programs like AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America. CNCS can also leverage its own experience with the digital television transition, during which it made sure that AmeriCorps members were in communities across the country helping individuals become more comfortable with unfamiliar technology.
CNCS can provide additional lessons on how to build the national scale and operational capabilities (including recruitment, training and technical assistance) to support locally based efforts to provide face-to-face assistance for individuals who need help acquiring digital skills. CNCS’s history of helping people of all ages who are interested in serving their communities while learning valuable life skills will help ensure that Corps members receive appropriate training through programs that rely on best practices to adapt to the needs of each community.
This training should ensure that Corps members gain a sufficient understanding of digital literacy and learn how to teach relevant lesson plans. It should also be designed to improve Corps members’ own digital literacy skills, as well as other professional skills that can enhance future career prospects.
The Corps should target segments of the population that are less likely to have broadband at home, including low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, senior citizens, people with disabilities, those with lower education levels, people in rural communities, those on Tribal lands and people whose primary or only language is not English.
Efforts should be made to recruit members with foreign language skills who can work in communities where the primary language spoken is not English. Research indicates the dearth of non-English online content and the lack of comfort with English are correlated with low levels of broadband adoption. Just 20% of Hispanics who chose to take the FCC survey in Spanish have broadband at home. For these non-adopters, perceived irrelevance of broadband and lack of digital skills are the primary barriers to adoption. One-on-one digital skills training in a user’s native language with accompanying content can begin to alleviate the effects of cultural or linguistic isolation.
Some Corps members might be based out of urban schools where they could work with teachers, staff and administrators to create digital literacy lesson plans and integrate digital skills into the teaching of other subjects (see Box 9-2). Other members might work with broader social service programs to provide digital literacy training as part of a workforce development program. Still other members could incorporate demonstration projects into training activities in rural areas to show the relevance of broadband technology to rural non-adopters and to encourage people to invest time in digital skills training.
Corps members will help non-adopters overcome discomfort with technology and fears of getting online while also helping people become more comfortable with content and applications that are of immediate and individual relevance. For example, Corps members might help people research health information, seek employment, manage finances and engage with or utilize government services.
Beyond their service terms, former Corps members would bring technology teaching skills back to their own communities, magnifying the impact of the program. As happens in numerous CNCS programs currently, Corps members would build other basic work skills: time management, team leadership, planning, contingency management and critical thinking. For example, 90% of AmeriCorps members reported learning new skills as part of their service, and, of those members, nearly all (91%) said they use those skills in their education or career pursuits following the program.
BOX 9-2: A MODEL FOR A DIGITAL LITERACY CORPS
In 42 locations across the city of Chicago, a group of young people is helping others unlock the potential of information communication technology. These young volunteers, mostly in their 20s, are CyberNavigators who, in conjunction with librarians in the Chicago Public Library system, help patrons with everything from basic computer instruction to advanced computer troubleshooting.
These young people teach classes aimed at the beginning computer user—Internet Basics, Mouse Skills and Introduction to e-mail—to support adults trying to enter the workforce after an extended absence. For example, CyberNavigators work with job seekers to update their résumés, set up e-mail accounts, post résumés online and e-mail potential employers.
The CyberNavigators provide one-on-one instruction, at times roaming the library to help users as necessary. Many speak a language other than English, enabling them to better assist a broader group of residents.
Increasing the Capacity of Community Partners
For millions of Americans, libraries and other public computing centers are important venues for free Internet access. Libraries are established institutions where non-adopters know they can access the Internet, but community centers, employment offices, churches and other social service offices play increasingly important roles. Low-income Americans and racial and ethnic minorities, in particular, rely on public institutions and community access centers for Internet access. Over half (51%) of African Americans and 43% of Hispanics who use the Internet do so at a public library.
But public computing centers provide more than just free access to the Internet. They provide supportive environments for reluctant and new users to begin to explore the Internet, become comfortable using it and develop the skills needed to find, utilize and create content. Patrons of these centers overwhelmingly express the value of the personnel who staff them and can offer one-on-one help, training or guidance.
Researchers from the SSRC have found that community-based organizations, such as libraries and non-profits, are key institutions in underserved and non-adopting communities—often providing Internet access, training and support services even when those activities fall outside their traditional missions. While the challenges and opportunities they face vary, these libraries and other community partners are critical to improving digital proficiency in communities.
The United States has more than 16,000 public libraries, 99% of which provide free Internet access. Ninety-one percent of libraries overall and 97% of libraries serving high-poverty areas report offering formal training classes in general computer skills, and 93% offer classes in general Internet use.
However, many libraries lack the computer equipment to meet the needs of today’s patrons. Eight in 10 libraries report hardware shortages that produce waiting lists during part or all of the day. More than 80% of libraries enforce time limits on use; 45% of libraries enforce time limits ranging from 31 minutes to 60 minutes, which is not enough time to complete many popular and highly useful tasks such as the mathematics review course for the General Educational Development (GED) tests, which can take up to 150 minutes. In addition, other CBOs such as community centers, churches and local non-profits lack resources to maintain their own computers, technical support and Internet access (see Box 9-3).
Box 9-3: Community-Based Organizations as Trusted Resources for Digital Literacy
The Centro Cultural serves as a link between the digital world and the rural community of Moorhead, Minn. A community center with a public computer lab, the Centro connects community members with online resources—such as jobs, scholarships and online civic engagement opportunities—that directly affect their lives. The staff has demonstrated success in reaching out to low-income, high-risk youth about the opportunities that exist on the Internet.
Owing to its popularity and the diverse populations it serves, the Centro has experienced higher than expected demand. During the last year, it has seen an increase in its electricity bills and expenses for maintaining equipment and has had to hire a full-time employee to run the lab. In working with refugees and recent immigrant youth, the Centro Cultural has found that it is difficult to provide all of the resources needed to make their broadband experience meaningful. For example, keyboards become a barrier when users do not speak English. Centro staff members have recognized that accessing the Internet in an environment that is multicultural and multilingual creates a more meaningful experience for users of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
Providing Resources for Digital Literacy Partners
Libraries and other CBOs need additional resources to continue to serve as access points and partners in achieving the country’s digital literacy goals. IMLS administers the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) program which funds the long-standing Library Grants to States Program and Native American Library and Museum Services grants. From 2003 to 2008, these programs distributed over $800 million in federal grants to states and territories. Professionals across the country credit LSTA with helping libraries improve technology, engage the public and establish new models for serving their communities. The State Library of Maryland, for example, reports that funds distributed through the program have “impacted [their] ability to stay on the leading edge of technology and in the delivery of resources.” The recommended allocation could enhance connectivity, hardware and personnel training at these community anchor institutions.
IMLS should develop guidelines for public access technology based on populations served and organization size. These guidelines would help libraries and CBOs assess their needs for public access workstations, portable devices and bandwidth. IMLS should work with these organizations to develop guidelines and review them annually to reflect changing technology and practices.
After public access technology guidelines are developed, Congress should consider providing additional public funds to expand organizational training and capacity—with a matching requirement and a minimum percentage set aside for organizations other than libraries. These funds would enhance connectivity, hardware and personnel training at libraries and other public access points and shorten the wait for broadband access at those sites.
Training the Personnel of Digital Literacy Partners
As government services increasingly go online, libraries shoulder responsibility for helping people learn how to use these online services. Eighty percent of libraries report that they help patrons use e-government applications. However, some librarians say they have been overwhelmed by patrons seeking help with government services and online programs, including applications for digital television converter box coupons, Federal Emergency Management Agency forms following Hurricane Katrina and Medicare Part D paperwork. These librarians also say that they did not receive suitable training or information from the agencies that provided the e-government solutions.
OMB should consider developing guidelines to help federal agencies develop e-government services that take into account the role of public libraries and CBOs as delivery points. OMB should consult with IMLS to develop the guidelines. Agencies should work with IMLS to develop online tutorials for using government websites and toolkits for librarians who help patrons use online government services.
Creating an Online Digital Literacy Portal
Every American should have access to free, age-appropriate content that imparts digital skills. This content should be available in a user’s native language and should meet the accessibility requirements applicable to federal agencies under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
To achieve this, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), FCC, U.S. Department of Education and NTIA should launch an Online Digital Literacy Portal. Congress should consider providing public funds to support this effort, and these agencies should partner with the technology industry and education sector to approve or create high-quality online lessons that users can access and use at their own pace. The collaboration between the agencies and non-government partners should be similar to the efforts that have produced the online safety resources available through OnGuardOnline.gov. Offline resources will be important complements to this online content. They should be made available for printing or ordering and distributed by libraries, CBOs and other organizations.
This collaborative model has been successful in programs such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Outreach Partnerships Program, which brings institutions of higher education and community partners together to revitalize communities. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions Assisting Communities (HSIACs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) serve critical roles educating members of racial and minority communities in the United States. In addition to their educational missions, through the Community Outreach Partnerships Program, these organizations provide links to community employment assistance, child care, health care information, fair housing assistance, job training, youth programs and other services. As crucial community institutions and trusted sources of information, HBCUs, HSIACs and TCUs could also serve as offline ambassadors to promote digital literacy and other national digital priorities.
Executive Branch agencies such as HUD and NTIA should also use existing relationships—for example, with Neighborhood Networks and Public Computing Center grant recipients—to distribute outreach materials associated with the Online Digital Literacy Portal. E-rate recipients should also be encouraged to promote the portal. Chapter 11 details how recipients of E-rate funds could use their facilities to allow community members to build digital literacy skills through after-hours access to school computing labs.
The Online Digital Literacy portal should be evaluated after two years to assess its impact. The evaluation should consider, among other metrics, the total number of individuals accessing the portal, the number of individuals from specific target populations accessing the portal and the effectiveness of different offline resources in promoting the portal.