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Back in May 2012 we got the first announcements of a huge U.S. nationwide digital inclusion project called Connect2Compete.
We thought it'd be a good time check in with the new COO of the project, Brian
Vahaly, to see how it's going.
Connect2Compete (C2C) is a project to supply low-cost broadband Internet,
low-cost computers, and free training to as many as 100 million
"offline" Americans. It was launched by the U.S. Federal
Communications Commission in 2011 and is now its own nonprofit organization.
It is part of an ongoing national effort to bridge the digital divide in the
United States. One thing hobbling the project has been that it took place well
after the flurry of U.S. Department of
Commerce (NTIA) stimulus grants in 2008 and 2009 and
so it has had no government funding and has been struggling to successfully get
off the ground.
The Washington, DC-based housing nonprofit, One Economy Corporation,
gamely took on this big ambitious project to get it going and secured two $3
million grants, one from the Knight Foundation and the other by the Carlos Slim
Foundation. The project was recently taken over by a new team headed by Zach Leverenz, Brian Vahaly, and Cara Wilner.
I got a chance to
talk to the C2C chief operating officer, Brian
Vahaly, this week, and he reports that they are making headway. It is, after all,
the largest digital inclusion project in the US currently. Though the "digital divide" has been declared to be cured from time-to-time,
perhaps most famously in a 2002 U.S. Commerce
Department report, A Nation Online, we know the reality is very different.
Brian spoke fervently about the project's digital inclusion mission to address
fact that one-third of
all Americans, who are mostly low-income and minority people, remain excluded
from our digital society. He said that the first order of business is to address what he calls, "the
relevancy of the Internet problem." According to Brian:
Our 100 million offline Americans
need to know that 80 percent of jobs are now listed solely online, and
80 percent of teachers are now assigning homework and having children do it
I wasn't able to get stats on the number of families connected or computers distributed to date. The project just had its national launch fairly recently.
The multi-million dollar grant
from the Carlos
Slim Foundation (Carlos Slim
is a Mexican telecom entrepreneur, and since 2010 is the richest person in the
world) addresses this problem. The Slim Foundation grant funds the very
recently launched EveryoneOn campaign
that was developed by the Ad Council in
conjunction with Connect2Compete to address the relevancy of the Internet
problem and also provide free online and in-person training for those who are
newly connected to the Internet. The website is in English and Spanish. The
site also has a zip code search function to find classes close by. The campaign
also has a toll free number, 1-855-EVRY1ON,
for those who are not yet connected to the Internet in some way. The main
purpose of the toll free number is to direct people to free computer and Internet
training classes in their area.
I didn't quite understand the real power of
Connect2Compete until I spoke with Kate Rivera, who is the digital inclusion
project director for Urban Affairs Coalition
in Philadelphia. Philly has long been an active digital inclusion center of
activity in the country. People like Stan Pokras of Nonprofit Technology Resources have been
working in this field for as long as I can remember (which is a long time).
Kate told me the history of the successful Keyspot Project, which was launched
with federal BTOP funding during the stimulus days. It is a perfect miniature
of Connect2Compete with its 80 free public computer centers spread across the
city for Internet access and training, low-cost broadband for homes, and free
netbook program for public housing residents. The Keyspot Project does have good stats on its performance to date on its about us page.
Then there's the major work that nonprofits working with the
California Emerging Technology Fund have
done across California since 2006. People like Jeff Hancock of Adapt∞Impact
labored for years to cultivate national Internet provider, Cox Communications,
in San Diego. He hoped that the company would expand their low-cost broadband
this month Cox announced a national offering of $10 broadband for
The Challenges of Digital inclusion
Connect2Compete is functioning as a national umbrella to
coordinate so much of the good digital inclusion work going on out there. They
are also looking for additional broadband providers to increase their coverage like
the recently added FreedomPop
arrangement to provide 12 GB of G4 broadband for $12 per month to people in
particular low-income zip codes that FreedomPop serves. Providing rural
broadband coverage is one of the big challenges of the project. Another is to
find refurbishers able to provide very low-cost PCs and tablets to low-income
C2C is eager for all libraries and charities
that are serving low-income Americans of all ages who may find low-cost
Internet, training, and equipment useful to register with C2C. Just go to the
C2C Become a
Partner page, and put in your information. If you’re curious to see if
you’re already listed, go to the C2C Training Page and put
in your zip code to see if your organization is listed. If your information needs
to be corrected, go to the Contact
Us link to tell them the correction to make.
Is there any component of this effort that is focused on better access for people with disabilities? Or on assistive technologies?
Great question. I didn't find that C2C national has anything in particular going in the area of assistive technology. However the big California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) project mentioned above, which is part of this new digital inclusion eco-system has a good deal of emphasis in this area. Find out more on this at: www.cetfund.org/.../accessibility. Also www.cetfund.org/.../accessibility. Their grantees include Alliance for Technology Access and Center for Accessible Technology among others. Susan Walters from CETF is a driving force for including assistive technology in to digital inclusion. She's one of my heroes.