TechSoup.org The place for nonprofits, charities, and libraries

Connect2Compete: The Biggest Digital Inclusion Project in the U.S.

Connect2Compete: The Biggest Digital Inclusion Project in the U.S.

  • Comments 2

Connect2Compete logo

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.

What Is Connect2Compete?

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. 

How the Project Got Going

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.

The Relevancy of the Internet Problem

 

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 online.

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.

 Connect2Compete as Aggregator of Local Digital Inclusion Projects

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 further. Just this month Cox announced a national offering of $10 broadband for low-income families.

 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 people.

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.

Image: Connect2Compete

  • Is there any component of this effort that is focused on better access for people with disabilities? Or on assistive technologies?

  • Jayne,

    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.