In my January 6, 2012 blog I wrote that we would continue the conversation about rural high-speed broadband deployment and access. Traci Avet’s comments, in her January 9 reply to that blog, noted that policymakers need solid and immediate plans to achieve broadband goals. One such program to monitor is the Federal Communication Commission’s collaboration with Connect to Compete.
Connect to Compete “is a private and non-profit sector partnership to promote broadband adoption and improve outcomes in disadvantaged communities.” The program will offer $9.95/month (plus tax) Internet service to “available households with at least one child eligible for the free National School Lunch Program.”
The program will also offer reduced prices for computers, and Best Buy’s Geek Squad will offer basic digital literacy training in 20 cities around the country. The program is slated for implementation September 2012. Although digital training will be done in cities, one assumes that these targeted disadvantaged communities and households will be in both rural and urban settings.
But, there are digitally disadvantaged communities and households that need digital training in both large urban areas and in rural areas. Indeed, a recent blog post by Craig Settles described a host of broadband infrastructure issues affecting urban areas in the U.S. And while Tables 21 and 22 in the Public Library Funding and Technology Access Survey (PLFTAS) document the extent to which residents relying on rural public libraries are handicapped in their use of and access to broadband and the quality of broadband access, there is plenty of room for high-speed broadband improvement in both rural and urban areas.
A careful read of the information posted on the Connect to Compete website finds a reference to PLFTAS study findings justifying the need for the program and then states:
[FCC] Chairman Genachowski’s proposal would enable thousands of more libraries to host in-person, basic digital literacy training programs…. Together, these new library and school literacy courses and instructors would form a new “Digital Literacy Corps,” an idea first discussed in the National Broadband Plan.
How, exactly, the Connect to Compete program might (1) enable thousands of more libraries to host in-person, basic digital literacy training programs, (2) leverage the broadband work public libraries have already done and the lessons they have already learned, and (3) incorporate findings from the many $4 billion National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunity Program’s (BTOP) project awards – many of which are targeted at digitally disadvantaged communities and households – is unclear.
Any comments and clarifications from librarians, library associations, Connect to Compete staff, Federal policymakers and other interested parties on how, specifically, Connect to Compete plans on collaborating with and leveraging the high-speed broadband work and training with which public libraries are already involved would be most welcome.
In the meantime, we will continue to monitor the Connect to Compete program as it evolves and we will be discussing the importance of digital training for increased high-speed broadband deployment and use for both urban and rural settings.