California launches effort to close ‘digital divide’
March 24, 2011
• Federal money to pay for increase in Internet usage
• Will emphasize Central Valley
California Connects, a federally funded program described as designed to increase digital literacy and broadband access in underserved communities, has launched a multi-year effort to increase the number of broadband Internet users throughout the state by more than 61,000 people.
It’s funded by a $10.9 million grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
The program will include training and outreach to expand Internet usage in communities that still have limited access, with an emphasis on the Central Valley where there is a high concentration of residents not using the Internet.
“California Connects provides the laptops and training to students who can then benefit others in the community with what they have learned,” says California Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. “This program will help prepare so many students to make the jump into what the future holds.”
“Broadband access will increase residents’ access to services and resources in areas such as finances, health care, and social services, as well as provide an avenue for maintaining family and community ties online,” adds Foundation for California Community Colleges President Paul Lanning.
Supporters say the need for a program such as California Connects is verified through recent statewide data suggesting that a widening digital divide exists for many of our state's populations. An August 2010 study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that while the digital divide has narrowed significantly among some demographic groups a gap remains for Hispanics, especially those from Spanish-speaking and poor households.
The report also indicates that Internet and broadband use has increased in all regions of the state except the Central Valley, an area of the state that will benefit from concentrated outreach, training and learning support through California Connects, thanks to partnership with the Great Valley Center, a Modesto-based think tank.
The program will also involve 5,800 community college students in training others on Web navigation. Many of these students, who represent 33 of California’s community colleges, have already been supplied with laptops, training, and access to on-campus certification exams in exchange for teaching others in their respective communities how to navigate the Internet for essential tasks such as securing gainful employment, exploring higher education opportunities, accessing health and finance resources and engaging with social networks.