The digital divide is expensive! It diminishes the quality of people’s lives, reduces their competitiveness and life options, and closes them off from a world of information, entertainment, and communications. The WCAI and its members are working together to make a difference while increasing broadband adoption in America.
Net Literacy (www.netliteracy.org) is a 501(c)(3) organization where high school and college students do all the volunteering and whose board of directors is 50% comprised of students. Net Literacy empowers youth to increase computer availability and Internet literacy focusing on underserved youth, families, and seniors citizens. It has increased computer access to over 130,000 individuals in four states. Increasing broadband adoption is good public policy, and US Senators Evan Bayh and Richard Lugar Co-Chair Net Literacy’s Honorary Board of Directors. The Honorary Board includes Lt. Governor Skillman, Congressmen, and Mayors. Net Literacy has been recognized by our nation’s leadership, from President Clinton in a NYC ceremony to President Bush in a White House ceremony.
The company’s initiatives are divided into five major programs:
1. Senior Connects Program – This program promotes senior citizen computer and Internet literacy by supplying computers and training materials; or by building public computer labs and teaching senior citizens (and especially those seniors that are mobility impaired or lack reliable transportation) computer and Internet skills. Senior Connects (www.seniorconnects.org) has provided many residents with their first access to public computer labs within their own facilities. The students do all of the installation, computer and software set-up and training – while the management of the facilities must agree to install and maintain Internet access for its residents.
2. Safe Connects Program – With Internet predators and chat room bullying, finding effective ways to educate children about Internet safety has become a critical issue and this Net Literacy program has established a “student-teaching-students/parents” model program for school systems throughout America. The program includes PSAs, 25 minute video presentations, and student presentations to other students. The program was jointly announced by the Indiana Department of Education and Net Literacy. More information about Safe Connects is available at www.safeconnects.org.
3. Community Connects Program – Computer Connects is another Net Literacy program that has built hundreds of computer labs to increase computer access to the underserved. Community Connects (www.communityconnects.org) provides a computer or computer lab to HUD and Section 8 apartments with 50 or more dwelling units, community centers, faith-based organizations, nonprofits, public libraries, and schools.
4. Computer Connects – Every Saturday, many schools gather to work together to repurpose thousands of computers in support of the Community Connects and Senior Connects programs. During weekdays, high schools and colleges also repurpose computers providing thousands of computers for schools. Schools use the computers to build computer labs, place computers in the classrooms, and provide computers to families not having a computer at their home. Student volunteers dispose of unusable computers in an EPA compliant manner, preventing computers and monitors from being delivered to landfills. Learn more by visiting www.computerconnects.org.
5. Financial Connects – Financial literacy is a required life skill, and America’s access to debt and credit is increasingly migrating to the Internet. Financial literacy provides students information that ranges from online banking to avoiding identify theft, and from how to find online scholarships and grants to how to save $100,000 – or many of $100,000s. A financial literacy portal containing a list of the 200 “best of class” online interactive financial games, videos, and calculators were aggregated after an exhaustive search of more than 5,000 financial literacy websites. The website will be launch in February at www.financialconnects.org.
Net Literacy’s programs are independently beginning to be developed by students from New York to California and around the world (www.netliteracyalliance.org). The US Internet Industry Association recently submitted a Filing to the FCC naming Net Literacy’s model as the preferred approach to reducing the digital divide in the United States. Net Literacy was selected by the European Union Study on Digital Inclusion as one of the 91 most promising good practice initiatives based upon an investigation of 32 countries including the EU Member States, the United States, Norway, Iceland, Canada, and India. Microsoft’s publication Innovating for inclusion: A Digital Inclusion guide for those leading the way, cites Net Literacy as one of the best of class digital inclusions examples. The US Broadband Coalition cited Net Literacy and its model several times as examples in its “Adoption and Usage Report” that was prepared for the FCC and has been featured in ads by Broadband For America, an organization co-chaired by Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell and former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.
Net Literacy’s content and programs are available at no cost to all WCAI members.