Keynote Address of Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
SHLB 2013 Annual Conference
May 2, 2013
As Prepared for Delivery
I am pleased to return to speak at SHLB’s annual conference. I have had the honor of speaking at all your previous conferences and it is a testament to the effort and dedication of John Windhausen that this conference has grown into such a major broadband event. I am particularly pleased to see so many recipients from NTIA’s Recovery Act broadband grant program in the audience and on the agenda.
I have spoken here enough that all of you know that NTIA has invested about $4 billion in roughly 230 projects around the nation to expand access to and use of broadband. Many of these awards are benefiting schools, libraries, healthcare institutions and other anchor institutions that play a critical role in our efforts to expand broadband access and adoption nationwide.
We are now well into the fourth year of the program. We have one more construction season to go, but already 40 of our grantees have completed their projects or are in the closeout process.
Our infrastructure projects – the supply side of the equation – have focused on expanding high-speed broadband to places where it is currently unavailable or where what is available does not meet the needs of the community, particularly anchor institutions. As a group, these projects have exceeded their targets nearly every quarter. As of the end of 2012, our grantees had deployed or upgraded more than 86,000 network miles and had connected more than 12,000 community anchor institutions.
But that’s only half the battle. Just as important is the demand side of the equation – the percentage of households that subscribe to broadband. The results of extensive survey work that NTIA has conducted in collaboration with the Census Bureau demonstrate that nearly one third of American households still do not subscribe to broadband at home. And roughly one fifth of American households do not use the Internet at all. Nearly half of all households that do not have Internet access say they do not subscribe because they do not see a need or are not interested. Another quarter of households say broadband is too expensive.
NTIA’s broadband grant program has addressed these issues from the outset. We awarded $250 million in sustainable broadband adoption programs to teach digital literacy skills to those who are not comfortable going online and to help low-income households acquire discounted computer equipment and sign up for affordable broadband service. We also provided roughly $200 million in grants to install and upgrade computer centers in schools, libraries and other public buildings to provide Internet access to those who do not have it at home. These adoption and computer center projects are also providing online job search and career assistance for the unemployed, and are helping small businesses integrate technology and move online to expand their reach.
The broadband adoption programs and public computer centers that we have funded have made enormous strides in tackling the stubborn realities that underlie the digital divide that still exists in this country. The grants have unleashed a tremendous wave of creativity, experimentation and innovation – much of it spearheaded by schools, libraries and other vital anchor institutions that are the bedrocks of urban and rural communities alike.
Libraries have been particularly important partners in this program and I was pleased to learn that today the American Library Association is releasing its own report on the impact of Recovery Act broadband grants on public libraries. I had a chance to review the report yesterday and was very impressed by the accomplishments that libraries have made in the areas of workforce development, digital literacy and community partnerships thanks to our broadband grants.
As of the end of 2012, all of our grantees combined had installed more than 41,000 public computer center workstations, delivered more than 12 million hours of training to more than 4 million people and produced more than 521,000 new household broadband subscriptions.
Along the way, we have all learned a lot about what works – and what does not work – when it comes to setting up the most functional computer labs, designing the most effective broadband training programs, and helping the most disadvantaged people use technology to improve their lives.
Let me share a few of these lessons:
- First is the importance of making the Internet relevant to people. The most successful digital literacy programs start by showing people why the Internet matters to them and how it can make their own lives better. They teach people how to apply for a job over the Web; how to bank or find coupons online; how to use the Internet to help their kids with their homework; and how to use an online calling service to communicate cheaply with family members in distant countries.
- Second, partnering with established neighborhood institutions that people already know and trust can be a key to engaging populations that are hard to reach. That is one reason why anchors such as schools and libraries are at the forefront of so much digital inclusion work. These institutions already have strong personal connections within their communities and can leverage those existing relationships.
- Third, computer centers and training programs must be accessible and convenient. For a library, this could mean keeping a computer lab open at night so people can stop by after work. For a school, this could mean offering digital literacy training for parents during the day when their kids are in class. It also often means offering classes in different languages to serve people who do not speak English.
- Fourth is the need to make services affordable. Cost can be a big barrier. That is why many successful adoption programs provide not only digital literacy training, but also assistance with finding discounted computer equipment and signing up for affordable broadband service.
- Finally, perhaps the most important lesson of all is that increasing the level of broadband adoption is a complex, multi-faceted challenge with no simple, one-size-fits-all solution. Addressing it requires a comprehensive, multipronged approach. Moreover, we must find a way to tackle this challenge beyond the communities served by our grants so that we can reach the millions of households that still do not subscribe to broadband today.
And that brings me to my announcement. Today, NTIA is unveiling a toolkit that assembles in one place the lessons that our grantees have learned and the best practices that they have developed. The toolkit is a handy reference manual that includes clear and sensible guidance on all aspects of a successful adoption program. It contains many practical ideas and tips for bringing all sorts of people online - from senior citizens who may never have touched a mouse before to migrant workers who might not even speak English.
We developed the toolkit in order to share the expert knowledge and experience of the broadband adoption and computer training projects with a broader base of anchor institutions, government agencies, non-profits and others engaged in this effort. Our projects reached only a small percentage of the nation’s households, but we want the lessons learned to be available to everyone. And we hope that as the grant program winds down, this toolkit will serve as a legacy and foundation for others to build on as they continue this vital digital inclusion effort.
I urge all of you to download a copy of the toolkit as soon as you can. It’s available at http://www2.ntia.doc.gov/files/toolkit_042913.pdf 
Here is what you will find in the document:
First, the toolkit will help you develop an engaging messaging campaign. Our grantees offer guidance on how to conduct outreach in your communities to raise awareness of the benefits of broadband and the resources available to help people get online.
Philadelphia’s Freedom Rings Partnership offers a good example of how to do this. The citywide partnership – a coalition of more than a dozen city agencies, non-profits, grass-roots organizations and universities – has two main components. The city’s Office of Innovation & Technology has installed more than 800 new workstations in nearly 80 computer centers in homeless shelters, libraries, housing developments and other public buildings in low-income neighborhoods across the metropolitan area. In addition, the Urban Affairs Coalition, a non-profit, is offering computer classes and digital literacy training at these centers.
To promote the program, the Freedom Rings Partnership has created a citywide awareness campaign that uses the municipal 311 hotline, as well as a website with a zip code locator, to provide information about center locations, class schedules and descriptions. The partnership also relies on its member organizations to get the word out to the people they serve.
On the panel that follows my remarks you will hear from Ashley Del Bianco, who manages the public computer centers for Philadelphia. She will tell you about how the outreach and awareness strategy – which has branded the computer centers under the name KEYSPOT - has paid off. It has been so successful that Philadelphians now associate the KEYSPOT name as “a place to go for reliable Internet access and helpful training in a welcoming and safe environment that respects their needs and perspective.”
Second, the toolkit will teach you how to set up a program to help low-income Americans obtain affordable computer equipment and sign up for discounted broadband service.
Connect Arkansas, a non-profit working to expand broadband access and adoption in that state, and its Chief Operating Officer, Emerson Evans, have lots of expertise on this front. Connect Arkansas is using its grant dollars to support a range of broadband adoption activities, including digital literacy instruction for adults and e-commerce entrepreneurship training for high-schoolers. But as Emerson will tell you on the panel after my remarks, training alone is not enough since one of the largest barriers to adoption is expense, including the up-front cost of equipment.
To deal with this issue, Connect Arkansas created a program called Computers 4 Kids, which provides free, refurbished computers to qualified elementary and high school students after they complete basic digital literacy training. In fact, anyone can order a refurbished computer for just $149 directly from the Connect Arkansas Website. The organization is also working with Internet service providers across the state to offer discounted broadband service to low-income families
Third, the toolkit contains lots of practical tips on logistical matters such as when and where to hold training classes, what to look for in hiring and preparing instructors, and even how to set up a mobile computer lab.
The City of Boston, another grant recipient, has found that working through local schools is a particularly effective way to reach people who are not online. The City’s Department of Information Technology has partnered with a nonprofit called Open Air Boston to provide digital literacy training, subsidized netbooks and low-cost Internet access to low-income middle and high school students. The program – called Technology Goes Home – is operating in 70 schools and is reaching not only students, but entire families.
It is also providing digital literacy training in a range of languages – including Spanish, Vietnamese and Somali – at dozens of libraries, youth centers and other community sites that have new computer labs thanks to a separate broadband grant that went to the city.
In a few minutes you will meet Debra Socia, executive director of Technology Goes Home. She says that an important reason for the program’s success is its “train the trainer” approach – which prepares teachers, librarians and other trusted community members to provide much of the digital literacy instruction. The approach is paying off. About 90 percent of program participants are still using broadband at home one year after completing the program – a fact that Debra attributes in large part to the long-term relationships they develop with instructors “who don’t just disappear after the training is done.”
Finally, the toolkit will give you plenty of ideas on how to develop a compelling digital literacy curriculum to make it easy for newbies to learn how to use the Internet and understand how it is relevant to their lives. Our grantees have crafted training courses covering a range of topics – from basic instruction in navigating the Web and setting up an email account, to career assistance to help people create electronic resumes and apply for jobs online. One thing we hear over and over again is that the most successful, most popular training programs do not just teach technology for technology’s sake. They show people how to use the Internet to find something they need, advance their careers or accomplish a particular goal.
Developing effective training programs has been a priority for the Texas State Library & Archives Commission, which has used its Recovery Act grant to add or upgrade computer centers in 154 locations – mostly libraries – around the state. The Technology Expertise, Access and Learning for all Texans (TEAL) project, which is working through 38 local library systems in Texas, is also providing training for librarians so that they can teach community members how to use the Internet.
The librarians do a lot more than just show people how to do basic keyboarding and conduct Web searches, or how to operate programs like Excel and PowerPoint. They also teach people how to how to set up an online bank account to save a trip to the bank; how to use services like Skype and Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends; or how to log onto Pinterest to connect with people with similar hobbies. Participating libraries offer a wide range of classes – covering everything from Internet job searches to online genealogy research to digital scrapbooking.
Denise Hendlmyer, who runs the TEAL project for the library commission, will also be on the next panel and she will tell you how Texas libraries have figured out how to make training compelling and engaging by understanding the specific, practical reasons people have for learning new technology skills.
Along with everyone else at NTIA, I am extremely proud of the work of the grantees featured in the toolkit and all the valuable material they contributed to this document. But we recognize that all of our grantees have thoughtful and practical ideas and examples that could have been included. We see this toolkit as a starting point and we are asking everyone to share their own expertise, best practices and lessons learned. During the closeout process for each of our grants, we will be asking our grantees to contribute relevant material that we will assemble and organize for broadband researchers and practitioners to consult in the future. Today, you can already contribute online courses and other information to the digitalliteracy.gov web site, a portal that NTIA developed in collaboration with 10 other federal agencies.
Before I close, I want to thank Laura Breeden, Angela Siefer and John Horrigan for their work in assembling this toolkit. They are all here today, so please do thank them individually if you get a chance.
I would like to leave you with one final message to take back to your communities and that’s this: Getting all Americans online is a challenge that belongs to all of us – schools, libraries and other anchor institutions; local, state and federal officials; private industry and the non-profit world.
We all bring something to the table in this discussion about how to move the needle on broadband adoption. We all shoulder some of the responsibility.
So consider this a call to action for everyone here. I hope the toolkit will provide a helpful resource to guide you in your own efforts in this area. I also hope you will be able to use it as a foundation to build on as you continue this important work to close the nation’s digital divide. Thank you.