Closing the Digital Divide: Digital literacy is imperative for America’s economic future

Digital literacy is imperative for America’s economic future and possessing these skills is absolutely essential for accessing the jobs and education.

Mike Bolognini

It’s likely that high level business executives, like those reading this article, have access to a broadband connection and are able to navigate to the very bowels of the Internet on their own computer or web enabled device any time they please. Step-away from this niche group momentarily and it’s not too shocking to learn that broadband adoption rates around the U.S. do not share a similar level of penetration.

An article in the March 20 issue of the New York Times presented some rather eye-opening statistics. The story quoted then Federal Communications Commissioner Julius Genachowski as saying that one in three Americans, or 100 million people, still do not have broadband in their homes. Sixty-two million Americans do not even use the Internet at all. Unfortunately, low-income Americans and minorities fall disproportionately on the wrong side of these numbers.

Closer to home, an estimate by the non-profit Connect Nevada shows that approximately 25 percent of Nevada residents are without broadband while 86 percent own a computer. And the sober reality shows that technology adoption is lowest for low-income residents: a staggering 47 percent are without broadband while 27 percent do not own a computer.

Digital literacy is imperative for America’s economic future and possessing these skills is absolutely essential for accessing the jobs and education opportunities that will enable current and future generations to compete in the 21st century workforce.

Consider this: in the U.S. today, more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies post their job openings online only and require online applications—the same is true here at Cox Communications. Fifty percent of today’s jobs require technology skills, and this percentage is expected to grow to 77 percent in the next decade.

There is more than one solution to bridging the digital divide in Nevada. Cox Communications had the privilege of launching Connect2Compete (C2C), a community-based digital literacy program, at the Henderson Boys & Girls Club last month with dignitaries and community leaders looking on.

Cox Communications is a national partner of C2C, a non-profit organization bringing together leaders from communities, the private sector and leading foundations. C2C will improve the lives of Americans – and Southern Nevadans – by making high-speed, low-cost Internet, computers and free digital literacy accessible to eligible low income families and preparing them for the workforce. C2C aims to leverage the power of the Internet to provide opportunity to all Americans – regardless of age, race, geography, income, or education level.

As the dominant provider of broadband Internet in Southern Nevada, our role in C2C is critical. We’re giving eligible families who have at least one K-12 child enrolled in the government’s free school lunch program access to high-speed Internet service for only $9.95 per month for up to two years. A broadband modem and professional installation are also included at no charge. In addition, through a host of hardware and software partners, Connect2Compete will provide the opportunity to purchase new and refurbished computers for less than $200.

Cox has a strong history of supporting broadband adoption programs in Southern Nevada, for example the creation of model technology centers at Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada, Agassi Prep and the Boys & Girls Club as well as our involvement in the Nevada Public Computer Centers in partnership with the Urban League. Our involvement signifies a commitment to connect the most vulnerable members of our society – our children – so they can compete and have a greater chance of success in the digital world that awaits them

How could C2C make a difference?

A recent Pew Internet & American Life study found that more than 80 percent of teachers agree that today’s digital technologies are leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and school districts. And when 76 percent of teachers assign online homework, teachers increasingly find themselves in the difficult position of either leaving behind students without Internet at home or holding back the other “connected students.”

The C2C program can make a difference because studies indicate that students who have access to a computer at home have as much as an 8 percent higher graduation rate. Certainly, our partnership with Connect2Compete is but one solution to improved education and workforce preparation. It will no doubt have a positive effect on reducing the digital divide, promoting digital literacy and the correlating social outcomes for education, jobs, health, and civic engagement.

Mike Bolognini, Market Vice President, Cox Las Vegas