FCC Proposes a Digital Literacy Corps

At today’s Digital Inclusion Summit, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn introduced the National Digital Literacy Corps as a recommendation within the to-be-announced National Broadband Plan:

The central feature in this program, the proposed National Digital Literacy Corps, is similar to programs like AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps. The Digital Literacy Corps will mobilize hundreds of digital ambassadors in local communities across the country. This is about neighbors helping neighbors get online. The Corps can target vulnerable communities with below-average adoption rates like low-income housing developments, rural towns, Tribal lands, and areas populated primarily by racial and ethnic minorities.

Our country has long recognized the power of education and information, particularly for those who face other disadvantages. Frederick Douglass once said, “Once you learn to read, you will forever be free.” Nothing can open more doors for a person than literacy. But knowing how to read is no longer sufficient to be “literate” in the 21st Century. Basic literacy must be supplemented with digital literacy.

The Commission already has experience in a related program that gives us confidence in its ability to succeed. During the waning months of the DTV transition, the FCC enlisted the help of AmeriCorps to go out into communities across the country to help consumers hook up their converter boxes in order to ensure that they would continue to receive free, over-the-air television following the transition. Young men and women fanned out across the country – from right here in Washington, D.C., to New Orleans, Denver, and Los Angeles. They were welcomed into people’s homes, and helped them get ready for the transition and beyond.

That same spirit can be applied to the longer-term goal of helping our nation’s citizens gain the necessary digital literacy skills to participate fully in all that broadband has to offer. Using people from within the community to help their neighbors can go a long way to ensuring that people are able to use the Internet safely, and to its fullest potential.

Some non-adopters, particularly older Americans and those who are not touched by technology in their communities, may be uncomfortable operating a computer or might be worried that being online exposes them to excessive dangers. Helping those people understand basics about computers and the Internet may be enough to get them online.

A recent study commissioned by the Social Science Research Council highlighted the role of communities in supporting digital literacy. Non-adopters and new users, especially those in low income and minority communities, often rely on the assistance of others to get online or provide one-on-one support. This fact is also why we recognize the need for continuing investment in public access points like libraries and community based organizations.

We have talented young people graduating college committed to doing volunteer work in their communities, who may be unable to find jobs right away. And we have workers laid-off mid-career searching for employment opportunities that require a new set of skills. The Corps can put these people to work building our nation’s digital skills and building upon its history of grassroots action and community service. Then our country and all of our people will be prepared to compete in the 21st Century global economy. It can help ensure that the online community is an inclusive one.

The principle of inclusion is part of the foundation of our democracy. It is embedded in the statute that created the FCC. And it must be at the heart of the National Broadband Plan.

Together, we can work to ensure that the rich promise of our technological future reaches all Americans, and that all Americans can take advantage of all that broadband has to offer. This is our aim, and this is our responsibility.

Here at the Transmission Project, we can’t help but notice the marked similarity this has to Recommendation #12 of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities. Commissioner Clyburn’s remarks do integrate our criticisms of that recommendation—that the Corps itself must model the inclusion it serves to create. This plan focuses both on young adults as well as mid-careerists.

No plans yet recognize the potential for creating a corps of retirees to serve as digital liaisons to their peers, or to harness retiree’s (and others’) experience in building the organizational capacity of public media and technology organizations who have been on the front-lines of technology adoption for quite some time.


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