WASHINGTON, October 5, 2009 – These are the most important things relating to broadband: availability, skills needed to use broadband, and universal service. A three-panel discussion held by the Knight Commission, which on Friday released a report, “Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.”
Launching of broadband is not a new concept for Americans. Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute — which did the legwork for the Knight Commission report – said that broadband is not just related expansion of technology, but the adaption to new technology.
Using the example of the first postal system instituted by Benjamin Franklin, Isaacson stated that expansion of broadband is the same as “free flow of information to all citizens at a respected rate.”
Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer in the Obama administration, said that the report released by the Knight Commission reinforces the ideas of the broadband expansion.
“The mission is to reinforce the big themes: thinking about the communities, creating frictionless access o the internet,” he said.
How can this be done, he asked rhetorically? Through engagement of communities with this technology at home and at school, the panelists replied.
“Not just the education of the students, but the teachers as well,” said Sherri Hope Culver, president of the National Association for Media Literacy Education. Culver said that a portion of the $7.2 billion in federal broadband stimulus funds should
go to the education of teachers.
Roberta Stevens, president-elect of the American Library Association, another portion of the $7.2 billion should go toward public libraries, because that is where people turn to when they need information.
If a person does not have the technology to access the internet, they go to the library, she said. “Especially when people were being laid of [at the beginning of the economic downing], they needed to search for information and jobs, which is all on the Internet.”
Digital literacy, what Stevens was discussing, is not the only literacy that needs to be taught. Culver suggests that education should first be focused on the media before it is focused on the technology aspect of it.
“Media literacy is books, magazines, newspapers, information online,” she said. “That is the bigger pot. Digital literacy is the smaller pot. We should focus on the bigger pot now.”
According to Lisa MacCallum, managing director of the Nike Foundation, educating children on the internet brings the question of “what is a trusted source of information?”
Throughout the panels, discussion of engaging the community in the educating and expanding of broadband was at one end of the spectrum, while at the other end, topics were brought up concerning the fear of expanding broadband, because an expansion like this will increase piracy and even harassment over the internet.
“You can’t ask people to become civically engaged in something they are afraid of,” said danah boyd of Microsoft Research.
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