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California Connects Launches Efforts to Close State’s Digital Divide at ARC

Federally funded program will increase digital literacy and Internet usage in underserved California communities.

California Connects, a federally funded program designed to increase digital literacy and broadband access among underserved communities, celebrated its official launch today at American River College, program officials announced.

The event marks the start of a multi-year effort to address the state’s digital divide and help increase the number of broadband Internet users throughout the state by more than 61,000 people.

California Connects will involve intensive training and outreach to expand Internet usage in communities that still have limited access, with an emphasis on the Central Valley where there is a high concentration of residents not using the Internet. The program will provide thousands of underserved Californians with the tools and training to enhance their lifelong learning ability, improve their economic and health care status and advance their general quality of life, all through greater access to and knowledge of online resources, officials said. 

California Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (11th District) joined California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott, Los Rios Community College District Chancellor Brice Harris, and Foundation for California Community Colleges President Paul Lanning to commemorate the launch of the program, made possible by a $10.9 million grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, officials said.

“I love programs that believe in the principle of multiplication," Bonilla said. "California Connects provides the laptops and training to students who can then benefit others in the community with what they have learned. This program will help prepare so many students to make the jump into what the future holds.”

Lanning said broadband access will increase residents’ access to services and resources in areas such as finances, health care, and social services, as well as provide an avenue for maintaining family and community ties online

“It takes our combined effort to share in the restoration of California’s achievement in higher education and make real strides across the digital divide to the place where we may all benefit from a well-educated populace,” he said.

The need for a program such as California Connects is verified through recent statewide data suggesting that a widening digital divide exists for many of our state's populations, officials said. An August study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that while the digital divide has narrowed significantly among some demographic groups a gap remains for Latinos, especially those from Spanish-speaking and economically disadvantaged households.

The report also indicates that Internet and broadband use has increased in all regions of the state except the Central Valley, an area of the state that will benefit from concentrated outreach, training and learning support through California Connects, thanks to partnership with the Great Valley Center, officials said.

The program will also involve 5,800 Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) students in training others on Web navigation. Many of these students, which represent 33 of California’s Community Colleges, have already been supplied with laptops, Microsoft IT Academy training, and access to on-campus certification exams through Certiport in exchange for teaching others in their respective communities how to navigate the Internet for essential tasks such as securing gainful employment, exploring higher education opportunities, accessing health and finance resources and engaging with social networks.

“When I was in school, a teacher told me that if you give a student a library card, you can’t stop him or her from learning," Scott said. "In today’s technological world, I think one would say that if you give a student a laptop, you can’t stop him or her from learning.”

American River College, the site of today’s launch event, also plays a critical role in California Connects, officials said. Faculty at the college are developing free, open-source digital literacy tools that will be used for training purposes throughout the course of the program. Additionally, MESA students at ARC will be involved in the community training piece of the program.

“Los Rios Community College District has maintained a strong commitment to MESA programs at all of our colleges, helping students achieve educational and career goals of becoming mathematicians, engineers, and scientists by providing a MESA Center where academic excellence workshops can be held, students can work together in groups to solve math problems and scientific inquiry, and academic and counseling services are provided,” Harris said. “Under the California Connects program, our current MESA students will be providing community service by educating members of community on the use of online digital literacy tools and how to access the Internet for education, health, and employment purposes.”

Additional details about California Connects are available at www.CAconnects.org.

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