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Yesterday, at a public school in Washington, DC, joined by cable and technology executives and nonprofit leaders, FCC Chairman Genachowski announced an unprecedented effort to help close the digital divide, bringing low-cost broadband and computers to millions of low-income Americans.

Right now nearly one-third of the country – 100 million Americans – doesn’t have high-speed Internet at home.  Compare that to Singapore and Korea, where broadband adoption rates top 90 percent.  Minorities and low-income Americans are the hardest hit by this divide.  Research shows that cost, relevance, and digital literacy are the primary reasons many people aren’t connecting. Whether we're talking about jobs, education, or health care, in this day and age, getting online is a necessity, not a convenience.

The “Connect to Compete” effort will offer millions of families eligible for the National School Lunch Program discounted $9.95/ month broadband Internet, $150 laptop or desktop refurbished computers, and free digital literacy training.  This represents a $4 billion in-kind offering for tens of millions of Americans. And it won’t spend any taxpayer dollars.

Yesterday, President Obama said: “This important partnership between my Administration and American businesses represents a major step towards closing the digital divide -- connecting more families to the 21st century economy, creating new jobs and unleashing new opportunities, and helping America win the future.”

You can learn more about the announcement here: USA Today, CBS NewsReuters.

Closing the digital divide isn’t just an economic issue, it’s one of the great civil rights challenges of our time. Broadband can be the great equalizer – giving every American with an Internet connection access to a world of new opportunities that might otherwise be beyond their reach. A Federal Reserve study found that students with a PC and broadband at home have six to eight percentage point higher graduation rates than similar student who don’t have home access to the Internet.

Today’s announcement includes a few critical components:

1.      New Low-Cost $9.95 Internet Broadband Internet

  • The cable industry, under the leadership of NCTA President Michael Powell, will offer all non-adopting families with a child eligible for the free National School Lunch Program basic broadband service for two years at $9.95 + tax per month, with no installation/activation or modem rental fees. This represents a discount of approximately 70% and will be available in all 50 states.

2.      New Low-Cost Family PCs

  • Redemtech, a technology refurbishment company, has committed to offer a refurbished $150 + tax powerful laptop, or desktop with LCD monitor,plus Microsoft Office, Windows 7, warranty, tech support, and free shipping to all eligible families. 
  • Microsoft, starting early next year, will work with its hardware partners to introduce a series of affordable, high-quality education computers, starting at $250, that include Windows and Office software.
  • Morgan Stanley has committed to develop a microcredit program to help families afford the upfront cost of a computer.

3.      Digital Literacy

  • Best Buy, Microsoft, America’s Public Libraries and the FCC are collaborating to make sure free basic digital literacy training can be available in America’s communities.  In addition, Microsoft is developing a portal to provide free online digital literacy training.

4.      Grassroots Effort

  • An unprecedented coalition of nonprofit and grassroots organization have committed to help spread the word about Connect to Compete. These include: America’s Promise Alliance; Digital Promise; Opportunity Nation; United Way Worldwide; Boys and Girls Club; Connected Nation; Goodwill; CFY; 4H; members of the Broadband Opportunity Coalition: The Asian American Justice Center, National Council of La Raza (NCLR), League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), National Urban League, One Economy, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); the Minority and Media Telecommunications Council (MMTC) and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.  

5.      Leadership and Implementation

  • The Connect to Compete offerings will be rolled out in select cities starting in spring 2012 and to the entire country by September, 2012.
  • Kelley Dunne will lead Connect to Compete, a new nonprofit initiative, building on his role as CEO of One Economy, one of the most effective organizations in the digital literacy space.

For more information go to Connect2Compete.org.

Interested in learning more? Watch a video of the event, read the Chairman's remarks, see the fact sheet