Between lack of tools and literacy, how do we close the ‘digital divide’?

Internet skills and access are essential for modern life, needed for everything including job searching, medical care, education, connecting with family and friends, finding new small-business customers, and avoiding isolation.

But digital resources are out of reach for many people, whether because of lack of knowledge of how to use the internet, or lack of tools to connect to it.

The “digital divide” — the gap between people who have online access and skills, and those who don’t — prevents people from participating equally in essential parts of life, according to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. It disproportionately affects minorities, low-income people, the disabled, rural populations and the elderly.

Digital literacy

Two-thirds of older workers want to learn new skills, with even higher rates among minorities, according to AARP Ohio. That jumps above 90% for workers whose employers support more training. About a quarter of older workers have had some kind of technology training in the previous two years.

Senior centers often hold digital literacy classes, said Doug McGarry, executive director of the Dayton Area Agency on Aging.

Many of those were suspended due to COVID-19, so people should check with individual centers to see if classes have restarted, he said. Dayton recently announced that some of its recreation centers will set up computer workstations for public use, McGarry said.

In 2021 AARP partnered with Older Adults Technology Services, a New York-based social services nonprofit, to help older adults learn personal technology, primarily through OATS’s flagship program “Senior Planet,” which offers online classes.

The Public Library Association’s free platform for teaching digital skills is www.DigitalLearn.org. It’s available in English or Spanish, and can be used individually or through libraries, McCauley said.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Lack of access

Among younger populations, the problem usually isn’t one of digital literacy but lack of access to adequate devices or internet service, said McGarry.

Even entry-level service jobs now require online applications, which can be daunting for someone who doesn’t speak English as their first language. That’s where library staff can be a big help. Many libraries have tailored programs for all those needs.

Home broadband service can cost $100 per month or more, according to InnovationOhio. About 20% of Dayton households have no broadband service, not even smartphones, the NDIA found based on census data.

The device someone is using may not fit their needs — for example, smartphones provide internet access, but aren’t ideal for writing a resume or doing homework, said Maria McCauley, president of the Public Library Association.

According to a report from InnovationOhio, about 135,000 households in the eight-county Miami Valley region lacked high-speed internet in 2020.

Montgomery County had the most, nearly 60,000 households; but the county with the largest percentage of its population lacking high-speed internet was Darke County at 31.8%.

Black and Hispanic or Latino Ohioans are nearly twice as likely to lack home broadband access as their white and Asian counterparts, said InnovationOhio, drawing on federal statistics.

Subsidizing internet

There is also assistance available for home internet access and even for buying computers. The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 includes $14.5 billion to subsidize broadband internet service for families that meet basic income qualifications through the Affordable Connectivity Plan.

The program provides a $30 monthly discount to qualified households connecting to one of more than 1,300 participating providers. It can also offer a one-time $100 discount on a laptop, desktop or tablet through a household’s service provider.

In some cases, this can result in internet service at no cost to the consumer.

To qualify, households must have income equal to or less than 200% of the federal poverty level. That’s $27,180 for an individual or $46,060 for a family of three. Families can also qualify if they participate in SNAP, Medicaid, housing assistance, SSI, WIC, reduced or free school lunches, or if they received a Pell grant.

Nearly 40% of American households qualify for the ACP discount, including perhaps 1.4 million in Ohio, according to InnovationOhio.

In March the state announced $232 million was available through BroadbandOhio grants to make high-speed internet available to nearly 100,000 households. That’s for companies to make service available, but not to provide a discount for the customers.

Among the first grant announcements is $2.1 million for Spectrum to provide fiber service to 1,165 households in Clark County.

New broadband projects are planned in at least part of all area counties except Miami and Montgomery; but Montgomery and all seven contiguous counties will still have some areas without high-speed access, according to BroadbandOhio.

Dayton program

On Thursday, AT&T and local officials announced an initiative to “help bridge the digital divide” for Dayton residents, in conjunction with the Omega CDC Hope Center for Families.

That will include offering a free digital literacy workshop at the Hope Center for Families in Dayton, building on free digital literacy courses created in collaboration with the Public Library Association. The workshop is intended to help families learn technology skills to access online education.

Omega CDC is a nonprofit established by Dayton’s Omega Baptist Church to fight poverty. It’s working to redevelop a 30-acre site in northwest Dayton with other agencies.

AT&T is also giving the Kettering Learning Center at the Hope Center for Families a $15,000 grant to support its workforce development, education and technology access work.

The announcement comes as AT&T — which participates in the ACP program — is expanding its fiber optic service in the Dayton area. Faster, higher-capacity internet is available, or will soon be, for more than 75,000 local addresses, according to the company.


Where can I find classes in digital literacy and other computer skills?

Try your local library, senior or community center. If you have computer access at home, go to DaytonMetroLibrary.org and click on “Programs” to see available locations, topics and times, or call the Ask Me Line at 937-463-2665. All programs are free but may require registration. Specific classes are geared for children, teens and adults.

For the free Northstar digital literacy program, ask your local library or go to https://ohioweblibrary.org/db/northstar.

Instruction is also available through AARP at www.SeniorPlanet.org.

The Public Library Association has a free platform for teaching digital skills at www.DigitalLearn.org. It’s available in English or Spanish, and can be used individually or through libraries.

What if I need home internet access or a computer?

To apply to the Affordable Connectivity Program, go to getinternet.gov or AffordableConnectivity.gov.

To find internet providers in your area, go to broadbandnow.com/Ohio or broadbandmap.fcc.gov.

More information is available through AARP at aarp.org/ACP, by texting INTERNET to 22777, or by calling 833-511-0311.

Visit your local library if you need a computer or help to access the websites above.

Dayton Daily News champions solutions

The Dayton Daily News recognizes that how people get news has changed, and it affects both how we deliver the news and how our subscribers read it.

To help our subscribers unlock all the tools that are part of the digital newspaper subscription, we are holding in-person, community events that show how staying connected is more convenient than ever. Subscribers will learn how to reach the most up-to-date reporting from our local journalists, as well as how important it is to be media savvy. Our staff will help readers access the newspaper websites, the digital ePaper and email newsletters.

The meetings will also allow for staff to help readers navigate these digital channels, get answers to questions, and empower readers to go beyond the printed newspaper.

“Technology is ever-changing, and at lightning speed. With so many digital channels and sources, it can be challenging for people to find reputable, quality information,” said Dayton Daily News Editor Ashley Bethard. “That makes our mission more important than ever – putting quality, trusted local journalism into the hands of our local community members in many ways, whether it’s a print paper, a digital ePaper, our websites or our newsletters.”

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