The challenge to increase broadband connections and adoption is an action call to the entire nation. It has been likened to other large scale projects—the electrification project of the 1920s or President Kennedy’s quest to send a man to the moon in the 1960s. In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama urged the country to embark on “connecting every part of America to the digital age.” Later in the year, FCC Chairman Genachowski announced the sweeping Connect2Compete initiative to increase broadband connectivity and Internet access across the nation. The data show that nearly one-third of US households lack broadband access. The whole community of the United States needs to own the challenge and understand that the nation is stronger when every citizen is digitally empowered.
In Tuesday’s webinar, It Takes a Community to Bridge the Digital Divide, we heard the perspectives of three key “communities”—libraries, public administrators, and community non-profits. They each have a role to play in the implementation of the digital inclusion vision.
Mary Chute, deputy director for libraries at the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), identified digital inclusion as a major policy area in the same way that transportation and highways are. IMLS is in the process of defining a Framework for Building Digital Communities, which defines the vision, the principles, goals and strategies that will help community leaders take action to foster digital inclusion.
Ron Carlee, chief operating officer, International City/County Management Association (ICMA), has been deeply involved in the development of the Framework guidelines, bringing the public administration perspective to the planning table. Ron acknowledged that digital inclusion is a large and complex challenge, that “no entity can do this alone, but any entity can be the catalyst.” He described the development process as a road map and a product of the best thinking by people from all over the country and from many different sectors.
David Keyes, community technology program manager, City of Seattle, added a more detailed layer from the perspective of a large city and a statewide community technology non-profit organization. At the ground level of implementation, David said that people get the concept but don’t necessarily know what steps to take to get there. Fostering collaboration and partnerships is one important strategy for building capacity and focusing the energy of the numerous organizations already in existence to help the disadvantaged.
An hour is so often too short. Although some participant questions were answered related to funding and the unique needs of rural communities, we ran out of time. If you have any responses to the following questions, please add your comments to this post.
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WebJunction has been awarded a grant from IMLS for a digital inclusion project complementing existing efforts to help libraries and other community-based organizations make strategic decisions about providing public access to broadband. Working with partners TechSoup Global, and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), WebJunction will evaluate the needs of libraries, community-based organizations (CBOs), and city and county managers seeking to get started with digital inclusion. Based on these findings, the partners will create and test a summit agenda for local community gatherings to develop a shared understanding about digital inclusion and begin to create an action plan.
IMLS and our project partners have been involved in other work related to these efforts and we wanted to be sure you’re aware of an important opportunity to contribute input on the proposed framework for Building Digitally Inclusive Communities. The framework was developed with input from over 100 organizations and individuals with deep knowledge about public access technology and the diverse information needs of communities. IMLS and its partners are currently seeking public input on the framework.
The online survey, which closes on November 30, takes 10 minutes to complete, but in order to participate in the survey, you will need to review the short 4-page, Proposed Framework for Digitally Inclusive Communities. IMLS is interested in getting feedback on tools they are creating to help communities raise awareness about digital inclusion and take action to reduce barriers that prevent people from accessing and using broadband.
We look forward to working on the project this coming year and hope you’ll take the time now to provide input on the proposed framework.