A focus on digital literacy

To date, most government broadband initiatives have focused on subsidizing infrastructure, intervention to stimulate the supply and lower costs for one or more service providers – ultimately in the hopes of local stimulation of demand through lower prices.

Such programs have had mixed results and have generally looked solely at rural and remote areas, providing a supply-side subsidy regardless of the ability to pay.

Unfortunately, we typically ignore the broader issues associated with the demand-side. It is not just rural and remote households that need attention. Many households in urban centres still have not signed up for internet access. Many households still don’t have a computer. For these people, computers and tablets are simply not on their list of priorities.

Yesterday, the FCC in the US announced an expansion of the Connect2Compete program aimed at addressing the digital literacy gap among low income households.

Currently one-third of Americans don’t subscribe to broadband services at home and more than 60 million Americans lack digital literacy skills, which are the basic skills needed to use a computer and the Internet. Connect2Compete is a national nonprofit coalition dedicated to helping narrow the digital divide by making high-speed Internet access, computers, educational and job content, and digital literacy training more accessible for millions of Americans without home connectivity.

Yesterday’s announcement brought the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) authority into the coalition, to work with local public housing authorities and other HUD-funded organizations to encourage eligible families to access resources available through Connect2Compete, including¬†digital literacy training opportunities.¬†Connect2Compete and Best Buy are launching a national digital literacy training program at partner facilities, including¬†HUD Neighborhood Networks Centers, United Way, and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

As FCC Chair Genachowski observed in his remarks yesterday:

The costs of digital exclusion are rising. Offline Americans are missing out on opportunities in education, health care, and employment. Over 80% of Fortune 500 companies post job openings exclusively online. Over half of today’s jobs require technology skills, and nearly 80% of jobs in the next decade are projected to require digital skills. Closing the broadband adoption and digital literacy skills gap is critical to the future of our economy.

The digital component of jobs has been identified here before in my post called “Menial no more.”

In Canada, the numbers are close 1 in 5 households lacking computers and connections, compared to 1 in 3 households in the US, but that number is way too high. A little over a year ago, I wrote that more than 600,000 households in Canada’s 3 largest cities don’t have a computer, let alone a broadband connection.

It is time for Canadians to turn our attention to closing our own broadband adoption and digital literacy gaps.

On Wednesday June 5, we will be looking at “Building an Innovation Economy” at The Canadian Telecom Summit, one of a number of sessions related to our overall theme of “Defining our place in a digital world.” Early bird rates expire February 28. Have you registered yet?

2 thoughts on “A focus on digital literacy”

  1. Maybe the FCC should be partnering with McDonalds:
    “The children and teenagers huddled over their devices at McDonald’s Corp. restaurants and Starbucks Corp. coffee shops across the country underscore the persistence of the Internet gap in education. McDonald’s has 12,000 Wi-Fi-equipped locations in the U.S., and Starbucks has another 7,000. Together, that is more than the roughly 15,000 Wi-Fi-enabled public libraries in the country.”

  2. One problem is that, in Canada, the supply side is under federal jurisdiction, but the demand side is largely under provincial jurisdiction. Heck, the provinces even get involved on the supply side, as evidenced by provincial grants to suppliers to build out.

    So any truly effective program would have to be a joint federal-provincial initiative. In Canada these days, that’s tough.

    As well, we need some more recent Canadian surveys of non-users to better understand the reasons for non-adoption. The U.S. has done recent studies, but I’m not persuaded that they can be transposed here.

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