Continuing his rollout of initiatives designed to expand broadband access nationwide, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski Wednesday unveiled the “Connect to Compete” venture at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington D.C.
The non-profit will promote broadband adoption and digital literacy for all Americans by establishing a new portal to host job listings and educational content, develop a database with digital literacy classes, and help train digital literacy instructors across the country.
Connect to Compete will be housed at One Economy, a leading and respected non-profit focusing on wide-scale access to the internet.
Low-income individuals, as well as seniors, minorities and those living in rural areas, “disproportionately find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide and excluded from the $8 trillion dollar global Internet economy, and all of its benefits,” Genachowski said.
Nearly 100 million Americans — one-third of the population — are not connected to broadband, and 18 million of them could not access it even if they wanted to.
“In the 21st century, having one-third of Americans sitting on the sidelines is as unthinkable as having one-third of our country without electricity in the 20th,” the Federal Communications Commission chairman said.
(See broadband availability map here.)
Genachowski said that 50 percent of today’s jobs require some technology skills — and this percentage is expected to grow to 77 percent in the next decade; 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies require on-line applications for jobs.
A recent study indicated that mending the broadband gap could create $32 billion in annual economic value, Genachowski said.
The FCC plans to work with the nation’s schools and public libraries to launch a Digital Literacy Corps.
Genachowski lauded a host of companies and non-profit organizations that have pledged to join in the effort. Best Buy, for example, will employ 20,000 Geek Squad agents in 20 cities to train Americans in basic digital literacy.
Microsoft will build a state-of-the-art online digital literacy training center, with videos and other easy-to-follow content.
Genachowski pointed to the critical importance of public libraries, which have been transformed into “job centers”; libraries, he noted, are the only place where millions Americans can get online.
More than 30 million Americans used library connections to seek and apply for jobs, he said, and 12 million children used them to do homework.
“Many — but not enough — of America’s 16,000 public libraries have become vital centers for digital literacy,” he said.
Librarians need help responding to this vast need — a recent Gates Foundation-funded survey showed only 38 percent of all libraries offer a basic digital literacy class. In rural areas like West Virginia, it’s only 25 percent.
“That’s a big missed opportunity. We should aim to double those numbers,” Genachowski said.
He added that the FCC would explore how the E-Rate program, promoted by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), to connect schools and libraries to the internet, could be utilized to help in the effort.
Genachowski referred to the Connect America Fund proposal he made last week to accelerate broadband build-out, both wired and wireless, across the country.
“It would put our nation on the path to universal broadband access and bring massive consumer benefits,” he said.