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PSN on February 18, 2009 - 10:54am
Beyond investing in physical infrastructure, states need to invest in education and community media infrastructure to overcome the digital divide. The digital divide not only refers to the gap in broadband adoption between different demographics, but also refers to imbalances in the resources and skills needed to participate as a digital citizen in the 21st century. Groups frequently disenfranchised in other parts of society, such as low income individuals and minorities, often have fewer opportunities to gain essential digital skills.
State broadband initiatives that focus on increasing affordable access to broadband only help address the supply side ofthe digital divide equation. In order to ensure that as more government programs, jobs, education and health care institutions take advantage of technological advancements, every individual can be a full participant in our 21st century digital society, states should commit to investing in digital inclusion initiatives.
Overview of Strategy:
Initiatives to increase digital inclusion and the everyday use of technology must meet three major requirements. First, states need to educate the public on the benefits and opportunities provided by 21 st century technologies. This includes discussions about how technology is tied to economic development, better health care, implementing nvironmentally friendly policies, better access to information and increased opportunities. Second, individuals access to technology and digital skills training which will teach them how to use and reap the benefits of 21 st century infrastructure. Third, any digital inclusion initiative must be tied to the overall goals of the state to ensure long term sustainability.
Digital Empowerment: Many individuals without broadband access do not understand the benefits and practical applications of broadband and new technology. Any strong digital inclusion program needs to educate the public on the uses of broadband and related applications and a community outreach program that helps residents, particularly those from underserved communities, understand the value information technology can add to their lives. It is imperative that a digital inclusion initiatives engage underserved groups, such as low-income families and individuals, children, seniors, people with disabilities and non-English-speaking immigrants. These underserved communities should be shown how broadband and related application can improve their economic and social lifestyle, as well as expand their employment opportunities.
Affordable Access to Technology and Digital Training Programs: A key to expanding digital inclusion is to invest in community technology centers, tutoring, and other educational initiatives. Any digital inclusion program must have an integrated set of strategies to bring hardware, software, and high- speed Internet access services to underserved communities. Below are elements that help increase access to technology and digital skills.
- Community Technology Centers (CTC): A community technology center offers resources to help bridge the digital divide, primarily through public access to computers and the Internet. Centers not only provide training in basic computing skills but also can educate individuals on applied skills, like online job searching. CTCs can be freestanding operations, or be located in public libraries, schools, social service agencies, neighborhood centers, and religious centers. If states incorporate CTCs with other objectives which have sustainable funding streams, such as work-force training and health care, they may be able to qualify for public dollars. For example, it has been demonstrated that digital skills are necessary for the 21st century workforce. Therefore, states could direct more federal dollars (e.g., Workforce Investment Act) towards programs that teach individuals basic and advanced technology skills necessary for many 21 st century jobs.
- "Technology Refresh" strategy: When states replace their computers or other technological devices, these machines although not suitable for state work, could potentially be refurbished and used in public facilities or sold at reduced prices to qualified residents.
- Use state buying power: Negotiate bulk buys from technology suppliers to create purchasing efficiencies as a means to making technology more affordable.
- Public / Private Partnerships: The support of the public-sector and private-sector partnerships can provide a community approach to increasing digital inclusion that will ensure every citizen has access to 21st century technology.
Long-Term Sustainability: Digital inclusion initiatives should be seen as long-term components of state and local policy, a mechanism to help states meet a variety of economic, health care, environmental and educational goals.