The FCC and Nonprofits: Negotiating a Complicated Landscape

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October 13, 2011; Source: Reuters | On Wednesday, the FCC announced an initiative aimed at increasing U.S. broadband adoption rates among low-income households, rural communities, seniors, and minorities.  The Connect to Compete program is a public-private-philanthropic initiative designed to help close the digital divide and reduce unemployment by training individuals in tech skills that are currently in demand by employers.  The announcement identified at least 24 foundations, corporations, and nonprofit partners.

Multi-state digital literacy programs are nothing new, including Intel’s Computer Clubhouse Network (launched in 1993), The Boys & Girls’ Clubs of America Club Tech (initiated in 1999), and the Public Computing Center and Sustainable Broadband Adoption initiatives that were part of the 2009 federal stimulus under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.

What’s tricky about coordinating and sustaining these initiatives is navigating the current landscape of digital literacy training providers.  As the MacArthur Foundation points out, digital literacy programs operate through a loosely connected patchwork of schools, libraries, museums, community centers, afterschool programs, and nonprofit organizations.  Many of these programs fill demand for digital skills training that is unmet by under-resourced school systems, and most provide access to computers and high-speed Internet that low-income households cannot afford.  To implement a cohesive national strategy that provides sustained broadband adoption, the FCC will need to maneuver its way through this labyrinth.

Some, in fact, saw yesterday’s announcement as little more than window-dressing  to draw attention away from increased telecomm industry consolidation and decreased broadband coverage, quality, and affordability.  Wednesday’s announcement lacked details on federal funding to sustain or broaden this initiative, and the Connect to Compete site provides little guidance on how nonprofit or philanthropic organizations can partner with the initiative.  But those in the nonprofit sector can provide feedback on yesterday’s announcement directly to the FCC by filing public comments.

What do you think the nonprofit sector can and should do to partner with private and public entities to increase technology literacy in the U.S.?–John Hoffman


  • Don Samuelson

    We very much need standards that certify competence in the achievement of computer and Internet skills for the vulnerable populations like the IC3 certifications of certiport and the European Internet Driver’s LIcence programs. They are directed to certification of competency, not licensing or potential invations of privacy. I wrote a recent post on this point related to the needs of seniors in

  • Robert Lindstrom

    Not only are digital literacy efforts a ragged patchwork of public and commercial programs, they are mostly remedial and tend to lack long-term, integrated perspectives. Non-profits are as much to blame for the current fragmentation as government agencies.
    While there have been diligent attempts to define and address digital literacy, no sector has so far managed to deliver an actionable vision that is compelling enough to qualify as a “cohesive national strategy.”

  • jdzlindeed

    I’ve come up with a strategy that I think will help! Seems that basic computing literacy is in an of itself a job-creation engine. Seniors, at risk populations and the homebound need basic computing skills in order to survive. A concise, sharply delineated basic computing literacy curriculum designed to create internet entrepreneurs is a bottom-up, scalable, grass-roots function of willing partners like me. The stimulus dollars for broadband dried up before I could ever find them, but I am still hopeful.