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The National Digital Literacy Corps

Posted: 10/26/11 11:23 AM ET

One hundred million Americans do not have high speed Internet at home, and 18 million Americans live in areas with little or no broadband infrastructure. Most Americans who are offline have the ability to connect to broadband; but they choose not to do so.

Seniors, minorities, low-income and rural Americans remain disproportionately offline. The digital divide is the widest for underserved groups that have the fewest resources and opportunities to become digitally literate.

Coming Soon: a National Digital Literacy Corps. On October 12, 2011, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski first announced Connect to Compete, a national program to promote broadband adoption and digital literacy. It's a big step in the right direction. The Chairman then continued: "building on a big idea developed in the National Broadband Plan, we're proposing to work with America's schools and public libraries to launch a Digital Literacy Corps to help promote and teach digital literacy."

Our Beginning.
In 2003, a group of middle school students formed a Digital Literacy Corps of student volunteers called "Senior Connects." In this program, teens helped senior citizens cross the digital divide by teaching computer and Internet skills as these same students crossed the intergenerational divide. The scope of the nonprofit was expanded the next year to include low-income, minorities, and rural Americans and renamed Net Literacy. Since then, 3,500 students have donated 20,000 computers to schools and nonprofits and increased computer access to 170,000 underserved Americans.

One Reason It's Coming Soon. In April 2009, the U.S. Internet Industry Association and Net Literacy co-authored a whitepaper calling for a Student Net Literacy Corps, which was filed with the FCC. Later that year, Net Literacy filed comments to the FCC calling for a "digital literacy corps of student volunteers." The filings sparked a call from the FCC to learn more, and the National Broadband Plan cited and credited Net Literacy for several of its initiatives, including the call for a "Digital Literacy Corps."

Creating a Digital Ecosystem in a Tough Economy. Net Literacy accomplishes its goal of maintaining a Digital Literacy Corps with minimal resources -- with an annual budget in the tens of thousands, not the millions. All digital divide programs are different -- and inspired by a public library's digital outreach program, Net Literacy's secret to success is a model that taps into the power of America's 30,000,000 high school and college students, making use of an unlimited source of Digital Literacy Corps volunteers.

We also have great corporate and foundation partners (check out our website to learn more). Some digital literacy programs can provide everything for free; we ask for our nonprofit partners to put some of their own skin into the game and provide the rest. We are not the largest program but we're strategic. Net Literacy is the only program with a regional reach, allowing students to have refurbished and donated computers so that hundreds of computer labs could be built or expanded in both urban and rural communities.

Our Chapters are in the Schools! As students do the volunteering, they learn job skills, life skills, and serve their own communities. Chairman Genachowski said that a computer in a student's home increases their chances of graduating high school by 7 percent; and Net Literacy's chapters in schools have helped donate 9,000 computers to families in a school district where 83 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch programs. This type of local community initiative has brought together schools and nonprofits with a shared mission to help their constituents by reducing the digital divide.

A national Digital Literacy Corps is coming soon! Net Literacy is a Digital Literacy Corps that has enabled 3,500 student volunteers to make a difference. Our team has shown that we students are not tomorrow's leaders; we are today's leaders and can be part of the solution.

It is our hope that the Federal Communications Commission will recognize the value of our experience and leadership, and permit Net Literacy to be a part of the soon-to-be Digital Literacy Corps.

 

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