Broadband program adds more digital literacy training

The U.S. Department of Labor joins the Connect2Compete broadband program

A nonprofit program focused on making broadband available to low-income U.S. residents has added a job-training partner to its roster and will increase its focus on using broadband to train and search for jobs, officials announced Monday.

Connect2Compete, a nonprofit supported by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, Intel, Best Buy and several other organizations, will work with the U.S. Department of Labor to provide digital literacy training at nearly 2,800 employment and training centers operated by the agency. C2C will train employees at the agency's American Job Centers on the nonprofit's services, including discounted broadband service and refurbished laptops.

In addition, C2C will launch a nationwide digital literacy database, available both online and through a toll-free phone call, and promoted by a nationwide advertising campaign by the Ad Council, officials said. The database will launch later this year, with the advertising promotion starting in 2013.

Microsoft, Goodwill and other organizations have already focused on digital literacy in C2C, but the new partnership will enhance those efforts, officials said.

Digital literacy programs are important because U.S. residents lacking computer skills are missing out on many services, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said during a press conference.

"The costs of digital exclusion are rising," he said. "Offline Americans are missing out on education opportunities, health care opportunities, and, yes, job opportunities."

More than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies, and many small businesses, post job openings only online, Genachowski said.

"Connecting all Americans and teaching them digital skills is critical to reducing unemployment," he added. "There is growing evidence of a skills mismatch in America."

In many U.S. metropolitan areas, there is one job posting for every unemployed person, but job-seekers don't have the right technology skills, Genachowski said.

"Some of these jobs require engineering or extensive computer software expertise," he said. "But many are so-called middle skills jobs that only require basic digital skills -- such as knowing how to use a computer, search, upload, or process a transaction."

About 66 million U.S. residents have no computer skills, said Hilda Solis, U.S. secretary of labor. Solis called for "equality and justice" in access to digital training programs.

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.

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