Coalition targets US broadband adoption gap

Tech vendors, online companies and nonprofits pledge to offer digital training programs for U.S. residents

A coalition of IT vendors, online companies and nonprofit organizations have launched a wide-ranging program to drive up broadband adoption in the U.S. and train residents in tech skills in an effort to cut unemployment and spur economic growth.

The new Connect to Compete initiative, with support from Microsoft, Best Buy, Monster.com, Sesame Workshop and several other organizations, will attempt to show the benefits of broadband to the millions of U.S. residents who don't subscribe to the service, organizers said. A large part of the initiative's focus will be on training people in computer skills and match them to jobs that require digital literacy.

About 100 million U.S. residents, about a third of the country, don't subscribe to broadband service at home, said Julius Genachowski, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. People who don't have broadband don't have access to many educational opportunities and health-care services, and are left out of many job-searching services, he said.

More than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies post job opportunities online only, Genachowski said. "So if you're not online -- or if you're not digitally literate -- the digital divide is now wider and deeper than ever before, hitting workers at all levels," he added. "Without home Internet, people are denied access to good jobs being created in America today."

Genachowski praised the new coalition, saying it will "make a difference for tens of millions" of U.S. residents. Genachowski, during a launch ceremony for Connect to Compete, also announced a Digital Literacy Corps, which will bring tech training programs to thousands of libraries across the U.S.

As part of Connect to Compete, Best Buy will use its 20,000 Geek Squad agents to train U.S. residents in digital literacy, with training programs starting in 20 cities in the next year. Several other groups, including the Boys and Girls Club, Goodwill, 4H, the National Urban League, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), will also supply digital skills trainers.

Microsoft will create an online skills training portal, and it will offer free jobs skills training, including training in Microsoft Office at schools, libraries and community colleges.

CareerBuilder.com will offer online prep and certification courses for only US$1 per course in high-demand employment areas such as technology, healthcare and manufacturing to hard-pressed job seekers.

Monster.com will identify jobs in which there are more openings than qualified candidates and identify the skills and certifications job seekers will need to land those jobs.

Several other companies and groups will offer digital skills training programs as part of Connect to Compete, which will be housed at digital literacy group One Economy.

The new program is "the private sector, the public sector, and the nonprofit sector coming together to do something essential," said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. "It's not the private sector alone, not government by itself, not the nonprofit sector out in the wilderness, but a coming together of all three sectors to take on a very important [issue] for 21st century America."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Tags telecommunicationJulius GenachowskiBoys and Girls ClubCareerbuilder.com4HNational Association for the Advancement of Colored PeopleSesame WorkshopMicrosoftU.S. Federal Communications CommissiongovernmentMonster.combroadbandOne EconomyBest BuyNational Urban LeagueMarc MorialGoodwill

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service

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