On May 1, as Acting State Librarian I filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) supporting the American Library Association’s stand on digital literacy. The FCC is receiving comments on Lifeline and Link Up Reform and Modernization (WC Docket No. 11-42), Lifeline and Link Up (WC Docket No. 03-109), Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service (CC Docket No. 96-45), and Advancing Broadband Availability Through Digital Literacy Training (WC Docket No. 12-23).
Digital Literacy encompasses the skills needed to access and use online resources. Per Wikipedia, digital literacy is “the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and create information using digital technology,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_literacy. The FCC is looking at funding nationwide digital literacy through the Lifeline and Link Up programs that are part of the Universal Service program. Lifeline and Link Up programs serve low-income consumers providing discounts on basic monthly phone service (Lifeline) and one-time discounts for initial installation fees (Link Up).
There is a part of the Universal Service program that directly benefits public and private schools and public libraries. It is commonly known as E-Rate. The program brings discounts on telecommunications, Internet service provider charges, and some internal connections. It is a very important program for schools and libraries. For the year July 2010-June 2011, Washington State received over $1,300,000 in E-Rate discounts; schools and school districts received over $22,600,000; and consortia received over $4,100,000 million for a whopping total of more than $28,000,000!
There are many ways the FCC can fund a national digital literacy program but I believe it should not come out of the E-Rate program as some have suggested. To do so would be detrimental to the ability of Washington schools and public libraries to help students and the residents of Washington access information vitally needed to thrive in a virtual information world (access information that is vital to daily living, decision-making, participating in a democratic society, and planning for the future, for example.)
In the best of worlds, a national digital literacy program would provide funding to public libraries so that their staff can train individuals in their communities on how to access and use today’s technology. The ability for Washingtonians to function in our virtual information world is critical and digital literacy is the first step.
One in three Americans use computers in their community library to look for jobs, connect with friends, and improve their lives according to a University of Washington Study (Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at US Libraries, http://www.imls.gov/assets/1/AssetManager/OpportunityForAll.pdf). People already go to their local libraries for access to information. Libraries are already training people on 21st Century digital skills. High speed connectivity is coming to Washington communities and with it comes new technologies. It is a natural fit that Washington libraries should play a prominent role in a national digital literacy effort.
That’s my opinion. What is yours?
PS – you can read my comments at: http://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/library/FNPRMcomment_WSL_corrected050112.pdf.