In 2010, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, as part of a larger grant to the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, awarded the DC Public Library $1.5 million for Sustainable Broadband in the District. The library is contributing $570,000, a 30% match of that award.
Broadband access provides economic, cultural, and educational opportunities. But there is a huge population without access to these opportunities. This is the "digital divide," and closing it is an important mission of the DC Public Library.
The District of Columbia, where a third of children live in poverty, three wards comprise the most distressed part of the city. Almost 40 percent of the residents of the District of Columbia—225,000 people—live in Wards 5, 7 and 8, where one in five people are unemployed and the poverty rate is 68 percent. Not surprisingly, broadband adoption and digital literacy rates are also extremely low. Focusing primarily in these wards, the District of Columbia, through two broad and innovative partnerships led by the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) and the Community College of the District of Columbia (CCDC), is providing the full range of elements necessary to transform a person with no interest in or knowledge of computers and broadband into a lifelong, effective broadband user. Participants will receive broadband education, skills training, educational and appropriate content, a computer and broadband connection in the home, and ongoing support.
The two-year initiative led by the library provides free computer classes to 1,600 District residents at neighborhood libraries. Byte Back, a computer and job training center, began the first classes in November at the Anacostia and Capitol View libraries. All low-income course graduates will receive a free refurbished computer from First Time Computers and a year of free internet service from Cricket Communications. Class offerings will include a 12-part basic computer literacy course, as well as a 24-part Microsoft Office and job readiness course. In addition, customized classes will be offered to special populations, including classes for senior citizens, classes for foster kids, and computer classes in Spanish and in American Sign Language.
This expansive program is based upon a pilot program conducted during the first six months of 2010 in which Byte Back provided basic computer literacy skills to 468 District senior citizens at the Benning, Francis Gregory and Woodridge Libraries.