The Federal Communications Commission released its National Broadband Plan Consumer Survey, Broadband Adoption and Use in America, which found that affordability and lack of digital skills are the main reasons why 93 million Americans — one-third of the country — are not connected to high-speed Internet at home.
The survey findings reinforce the growing body of research that finds digital literacy skills are critical to bridging the gap between those who are able to fully participate in the information age and those who live as second-class citizens in informed communities. While the cost of Internet connectivity was cited by 36% of non-adopters as the reason for not having Internet access at home, issues related to digital literacy came in second, with 22% citing this concern. Other reasons for non-adoption included relevance of Internet content (19%), other reasons outside of these categories (11%), combination of the above (4%) and lack of availability (5%).
“We need to tackle the challenge of connecting 93 million Americans to our broadband future,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. “In the 21st century, a digital divide is an opportunity divide. To bolster American competitiveness abroad and create the jobs of the future here at home, we need to make sure that all Americans have the skills and means to fully participate in the digital economy.”
John Horrigan, who led the survey for the FCC, presented the findings at an event at the Brookings Institution. Video of the event, which included FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, is available at the Brookings website.
The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy strongly supports the idea that people need tools, skills and understanding to use information effectively. Finding that “funding to meet this goal is an investment in the nation’s future,” the Commission has recommended that digital and media literacy be integrated as critical elements for education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state and local education officials (recommendation #6).
Enhancing the information capacity and digital literacy skills of individuals isn’t limited to traditional educational institutions, however. The Commission recognized that digital skills are skills to be acquired and honed over a lifetime, and that other community institutions, organizations and individual citizens have a role to play. Along these lines, the Commission has recommended that communities fund and support public libraries and other community institutions as centers of digital and media training, especially for adults (recommendation #7).
Additionally, young people have a special role to play in times of great change and should be engaged in developing the digital information and communication capacities of local communities (recommendation #12). The Commission referred to the potential for creating a domestic version of the Geeks Corps, an international nonprofit that works to expand access to the Internet around the world. There are several examples of such projects happening in the United States already, including the Digital Arts Service Corps and the Public Media Corps in development by the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC).
As the nation awaits the FCC’s release of its National Broadband Plan, the Consumer Survey provides a reality check for the hurdles that will need to be overcome in fostering healthy, informed communities.