Having worked on digital inclusion programs for the last six years, it’s hard to contain our excitement about the huge leaps forward that have occurred in the first three months of 2016. It seems like we’re finally beyond the “It’s 20XX, doesn’t everyone have access to technology?” and “Isn’t Internet access like cable, great to have, but not necessary?” discussions. We’re now on to large-scale, national programs that are making real progress to close the digital divide in America.
The White House announced a new ConnectALL Initiative on March 9th to help Americans from across the country, at every income level, get online and have the tools to take full advantage of the Internet. This Initiative includes important commitments from major national organizations who are strategically launching programs to meet the ambitious goal of connecting 20 million more Americans to the Internet by 2020. For example:
- The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) BroadbandUSA team is developing new tools to support communities working to expand broadband access, adoption and use. The Community Connectivity Initiative will provide communities with a comprehensive self-assessment tool to better understand how their current policies and programs support broadband connectivity; an index or comparative community connectivity score; technical assistance with project planning and implementation; and access to an expanding community of practice.
- The Corporation for National and Community Service announced plans to expand investments to increase digital literacy. Collaborating with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), they are developing a Digital Literacy Pilot Project in tribal and rural communities. AmeriCorps VISTA members will support libraries, museums, and associated community organizations to help build capacity and increase digital literacy efforts, complementing the Administration’s work to increase broadband adoption among low-income households.
Finally, in what may be the biggest digital inclusion breakthrough of our time, on March 31st the FCC voted to expand its Lifeline program for low-income Americans to include Internet as well as telephone service. Since 1985, Lifeline has made telephone service available to low-income individuals. But with 43% of our nation’s poorest households still lacking home Internet access, the FCC recognized the need to expand the services available through Lifeline to our most important communication tool: the Internet. Now, for the first time, Lifeline will support stand-alone mobile or fixed broadband service, as well as bundled services including voice and data.
Here at Mobile Beacon, we are continuing to do our part to help close the digital divide. We’ve updated our flagship program,the i3 Internet Inclusion Initiative, with new device donation programs for 4G LTE mobile hotpsots now available through TechSoup, as well as an exciting new partnership with PCs for People that brings affordable Internet access and low-cost computers together.
We’re also attending the SHLB Annual Conference in Crystal City, VA at the end of April and the first Net Inclusion Summit in Kansas City in May. These back-to-back events will be packed with policy makers and practitioners committed to closing the digital divide once and for all. We hope to see you there!