a m e r i c a ’ s P l a n c H a P t e r 9 service would provide sufficient connectivity for a basic pack- those “worried about all the bad things that can happen if age of broadband applications.74 As with broadcast television, [they] use the Internet.”75 the consumer would still need to purchase a device that could be Digital literacy is an evolving concept. Though there is no used to access the service. Depending on the specific details of standard definition, digital literacy generally refers to a variety implementation, a free or very low-cost service may be unlikely to of skills associated with using ICT to find, evaluate, create and compete with paid services that offer greater capabilities. communicate information. It is the sum of the technical skills The FCC should consider both the likely costs and benefits and cognitive skills people employ to use computers to retrieve of this program. If undertaken, many more consumers who information, interpret what they find and judge the quality of cannot afford any broadband or Internet service would have that information. It also includes the ability to communicate access to 21st century communications infrastructure—espe- and collaborate using the Internet—through blogs, self-pub- cially important as public-interest media content, including lished documents and presentations and collaborative social local news and information, is increasingly provided online. networking platforms. Digital literacy has different meanings In addition, upon becoming operational, such a service could at different stages of a person’s life. A fourth grader does not reduce the assessment of USF contributions needed to support need the same skills or type of instruction as a 45-year-old try- a Lifeline broadband service. However, costs of this approach ing to re-enter the job market. Digital literacy is a necessary life would include lower auction revenues (due to the conditions skill, much like the ability to read and write. placed on use of the spectrum) and the opportunity cost of us- The recommendations in this section will help all Americans ing the spectrum for other purposes. to develop basic digital skills, lowering barriers to broadband The FCC would need to ensure that consumers actually adoption and utilization. receive the benefits of the free (or very low-cost) broadband pro- gram—for example, ensuring that devices tuned to the applicable ReCoMMeNDaTioN 9.3: the federal government should frequency band(s) are widely available at an affordable price launch a national digital literacy Program that creates a and acceptable bandwidth levels, and that sufficient capacity is digital literacy corps, increases the capacity of digital lit- reserved for the service. Historically, free advertising-supported eracy partners and creates an online digital literacy Portal. telecommunications services have not had the same success as ➤ congress should consider providing additional public free over-the-air television services. But they might meet with funds to create a digital literacy corps to conduct more success if an appropriate business model can be identified. training and outreach in non-adopting communities. Decisions about the use of spectrum for a particular purpose ➤ congress, the institute of museum and library ser- should be reached with special attention paid to whether a suit- vices (imls) and the office of management and bud- able band is available for this purpose. These decisions should get (omb) should commit to increase the capacity of be reached at the same time that the Lifeline pilot programs institutions that act as partners in building the digital are launched. literacy skills of people within local communities. ➤ congress should consider providing additional public 9.3 addressInG hardware and train personnel of libraries and other to improve connectivity, enhanceimlsfunds to dIGItaL LIteracY ➤ omb consulting with imls should develop guideliness).cboommunity-based organizations (c BarrIers to they need to help patrons use next-generation e-gov-s have the trainingcboto ensure that librarians and BroadBand adoptIon ➤ congress should consider funding an online digitalernment applications. and UtILIZatIon literacy Portal. An independent study commissioned by the FCC and con- Tasks that experienced users take for granted—using a mouse, ducted by the Social Science Research Council used qualitative navigating a website or creating a username and password—can research techniques to examine broadband adoption and use in be daunting for new or less experienced users of the Internet. context, particularly in low-income communities. The report As described earlier, 22% of non-adopters cite digital literacy draws on focus groups, interviews and group conversations as their main barrier to broadband adoption. This group with non-adopters, librarians, community organizers, teach- includes people who are uncomfortable using computers and ers, human service workers, health professionals, AmeriCorps 1 7 4 F e d e r a l c o m m u n i c a t i o n s c o m m i s s i o n | w w w . b r o a d b a n d . g o v
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