Google has chosen Kansas City and its seven other Google Fiber markets for a fellowship program to connect more people to the Internet.
The mission is to recruit and train people in each market to help build local programs to expand the digital world to those who lack online access, devices and skills.
It would mean reaching about a fourth of Kansas Citians who don’t have computers, need to learn how to use them or lack access to an affordable Internet connection.
Those barriers mean that many parents can’t track their children’s grades online, students can’t do some of their homework, job seekers are shut out when job applications are accepted only online and too few understand why the Internet matters so much.
Literacy Kansas City even uses computer programs to help area residents learn basic literacy — reading and writing.
“There are different types of literacy,” instructor Sarah Bell said. “Digital literacy is there as well because we are living in an age where that’s an essential part.”
Literacy Kansas City and the Full Employment Council in Kansas City each will receive a “digital inclusion fellow” under the program with Google Fiber and the Nonprofit Technology Network, or NTEN.
Both Kansas City groups currently try to bring down at least one of the barriers for digital inclusion here. The fellows, after training by NTEN in Mountain View, Calif., home of Google, will return to help build a wider program aimed at felling all barriers to digital inclusion.
“The key is to create this whole community of connectedness,” said Clyde McQueen, president and chief executive of the Full Employment Council.
McQueen said digital inclusion is important to the Kansas City area’s growing emphasis on technology in jobs, from the expansion of high-tech jobs at Cerner to the role that basic computer skills play in customer service and other work.
Digital inclusion opens that work opportunity to all students and the long-term unemployed. Not everyone will pursue those jobs, but they ought to have the choice, he said.
“It should be because they made the decision not to do it, not because the system was exclusionary from the outset,” McQueen said.
The program joins other digital inclusion efforts in the Kansas City area, including those supported by the Digital Inclusion Fund at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, which is partly funded by Google.
Google Fiber said it would spend more than $1 million in the effort to find, train and support the digital inclusion fellows for one year.
The funding includes salary and benefits for the 16 fellows for a year, plus a stipend to help local groups organize and launch their programs, said Google Fiber’s Andrew Bentley.
The training will focus on leadership skills, ways to measure and evaluate digital inclusion efforts and what other programs are doing to boost inclusion. The idea is to prepare the fellows to tap into existing efforts in each community and develop additional needed programs.
Groups already are looking at various projects, but Bentley said once fellows return, they will be able to tailor efforts to communities.
“These projects we’re proposing and launching Thursday are not set in stone,” Bentley said.
In addition to Kansas City, the program will support fellows in Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah; and the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina.