Prosperity has different benchmarks. Bridging the digital divide is crucial if we want prosperity for all. The digital divide is the gulf that exists between those who have ready access to the Internet and those who do not. The digital divide diminishes quality of life, economic opportunity and social interaction for those without access.
Making Broadband More Affordable for Low Income Homes
Naturally an important step in bridging the digital divide is making broadband access more affordable for low income households. There are a number of different approaches for this, but a key program that is available nationwide is Lifeline Support. This program, administered by the Universal Service Administrative Co (USAC), is a Federal program that provides subsidized phone and Internet services for those who qualify. If you or someone you know may qualify, check with your local telephone and broadband providers to learn the details. OTELCO customers can learn more on our residential broadband page. Just choose your exchange and click the lifeline links below the price plans.
Bridging the Digital Divide with with Computers in Every Home
Second, affordable broadband connections don’t mean much to folks who don’t own a computing device. Putting digital technology in everyone’s hands is a major component of any digital inclusion program. There are a number of such initiatives in Maine.
In 2002, Maine Governor Angus King started an initiative to provide laptops to all 7th and 8th graders. The program has grown and many Maine school districts are now providing a device for every student. Many other states have followed suit, allowing students to bring the laptops and tablets home as well. While the intent was to improve the educational experience and increase student engagement, the program also brought computers into many homes that previously had none.
Also in 2002, PCs for Maine was founded to ensure that low income families, non-profits, schools, and libraries have access to computers for their respective needs. Qualifying individuals, families and non-profits can purchase refurbished business class computers and software at nominal pricing.
PCs for Maine is a program within Information Technology Exchange (ITE). Founded in 2002, ITE’s mission is to help nonprofits, families, and individuals overcome anything that hinders access to technology. “We accomplish our mission through several programs, each tailored to meet the needs of specific communities. In 2016, there has been a huge push in several programs at ITE. We have recognized the biggest culprits in the technology gap are cost, literacy, fear, sustainability, and availability.”
Digital Literacy and the Digital Divide
As ITE’s comments suggest, digital literacy is an important component of the digital divide. Moreover, for those who don’t have digital skills, fear of this unknown technology can be a major roadblock. Once affordable access and computing devices are available to all, the next step is to teach new users how to put the technology to work for them.
As we discussed last week, a handful of Maine companies are addressing the digital literacy gap through a combination of private, nonprofit and government funding sources. In addition, libraries and other community organizations are providing the tools and skills needed to participate in the digital economy. In support of this effort, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) created digitalliteracy.gov. This website provides a central location for organizations doing the hard work of expanding digital literacy to share ideas and resources.
Bridging the Digital Divide Takes a Village
Clearly, the combined efforts of government agencies like USAC & NTIA, private companies like Axiom & OTELCO, and non-profit organizations like ITE and the Unity Foundation are crucial to bridging the digital divide. Whether the need is an affordable connection, an affordable computer, or an affordable digital education, organizations are narrowing the digital divide.