Here at United Way of the Greater Triangle, we are very proud of our Teaming for Technology program. If you haven’t heard about it yet, you will. T4T, as we affectionately call it, takes in old computers that people and businesses no longer use. Then, they clean them thoroughly, update them, and add a new operating system and Microsoft Office to the computer. After the computer is refurbished, it is ready to be put back in the hands of schools or nonprofits across North Carolina.
Sounds like a great program right? It is! Last year alone, T4T distributed over 2,200 computers to schools and nonprofits, and this year expects to top the 3,000 computer mark. All of this work is being done in order to “narrow the achievement gap by bridging the digital divide.” This means, we want to eliminate the divide between those students who have regular access to a computer and those who don’t. It’s a simple enough concept, and one that almost everyone can get behind.
However, there is one piece of the puzzle that is vital to bridging this divide – the internet. While a low-income student may get one of the T4T refurbished computers through his/her school or a local nonprofit, that’s only half of the issue. Using a computer for research, schoolwork, or even just email requires an internet connection. North Carolina has a wide variety of Internet Service Providers from Dialup, DSL, Cable, Fiber, Fixed Wi-Fi, etc. But, even the least expensive internet packages can sometimes be cost prohibitive for a low-income family.
There is hopefully, relief for these families, right around the corner in the form of the Lifeline program. According to Mashable.com, “The Lifeline program was formed to help low-income Americans pay for telephone connectivity. Lifeline subscribers have been able to receive as much as $10 off their monthly telephone bills for either a landline or mobile phone. But high-speed Internet has been replacing the telephone as the main connectivity choice for Americans, and the FCC recognizes that shift.”
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, recently ordered a massive overhaul of the Lifeline program. He states that Lifeline will be restructured in the following ways:
- By establishing a pilot program to determine how Lifeline can best be expanded to include broadband access.
- By increasing digital literacy training at libraries and schools.
- By building on the FCC’s efforts to expand broadband access and adoption rates.
If these changes take hold and are permanent, this could go a long way in helping to bridge the digital divide. While Teaming for Technology is doing great things by distributing the thousands of computers that they have distributed over the years, it is still only half of the problem for the recipients. Without the internet, the computer isn’t much more than a word processor.
I’m excited to see the FCC step in and realize the shift in communication trends. Hopefully the changes Lifeline makes will be enough to enable thousands more low-income families to become “wired.”