by Jessica Denson, Communications Director
Louisville, Ky. (November 21, 2019) – The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society recently released a report that calls broadband (high-speed internet) “the most transformative technology of our generation.” It can grow the American economy, empower workers, and strengthen communities.
“For many Americans, lack of broadband access means having less opportunity than their parents did. This is not just a digital divide—this is another America,” writes Jonathan Sallet, the Benton Senior Fellow who authored the report. “An America whose finances are precarious—and disadvantaged by long-term tectonic economic trends. A place that is often isolated—especially in rural America. An America where the local fast-food restaurant and the public library may offer the best choices for broadband. It is an America with less opportunity.”
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is “working to bring open, affordable, and high-capacity broadband to all people.” It’s a mission that Connected Nation (CN) shares and has been working toward for nearly two decades.
“We believe everyone belongs in a Connected Nation,” said Tom Ferree, Chairman & CEO, CN. “For us, that means finding innovative solutions to expand access, adoption, and use to all people—no matter where they live or where they come from. Those three approaches are critical and must be part of the conversation. Access deals with infrastructure and expansion of high-speed internet, adoption deals with everything from affordability to helping people understand the importance of broadband, and use deals with training people how to leverage the internet to improve the quality of their lives.”
In the report, called Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, Sallet compares broadband expansion to a time when railroads were built across the country, dubbing broadband “the New Railroad.”
“We agree. At Connected Nation, we often equate broadband access to the electrification of the country in the early 1900s,” said Chris Pedersen, VP of Development and Planning, CN. “Having access to this technology is no longer a privilege, it’s a necessity. It links families and communities to government services, job opportunities, social connections, better health care, and educational opportunities—that includes something as important as kids being able to complete their homework assignments or adults applying and qualifying for jobs.”
In today’s world, getting a job is getting tougher if you don’t have the right digital skills. According to a recent report from Global Workplace Analytics, the number of people working at home has grown 159 percent since 2005. That’s 11 times faster than the rest of the workforce.
In addition, those who are teleworking are making more money than those who are not. According to the Benton report, “the percentage of residents teleworking from home in both salaried and self-employed jobs had a positive and significant impact on median household income.”
Furthermore, Global Analytics researchers found that telecommuting could save $700 billion yearly across the United States for businesses, government agencies, and families. But no one can take part in that digital economy if they don’t have the right skills.
“Eight out of 10 of these jobs require digital skills, and these kinds of jobs are growing faster and pay better,” Sallet writes. “Less educational exposure to digital skills specifically leaves people without needed opportunities to gain access to higher-paying careers that require high technology and computer skills.”
One solution is Connected Nation’s Digital Workssm (DW) program, which was highlighted in the Benton report.
“Back in 2013, our staff noticed that there was a need for more digital training to help people fill jobs that could be done online from anywhere,” said Pedersen. “That’s when we started Digital Works. Since then, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the number of people looking for flexible jobs that allow them to work from home and around their busy schedules or personal situations.”
Sallet writes that Digital Works is focused on “developing a workforce that can work from home by providing IT and customer support training, job placement, and additional career development support.” In addition, Connected Nation Ohio (CN Ohio) recently offered one-week boot camps in three Southeast Ohio areas. This training program prepares people for telecommuting opportunities from home.
“We are trying to meet individuals where they are and address a wide variety of needs,” said Tammy Spring, Operations Manager, DW. “We are constantly re-evaluating our program and assessing the unique needs of communities to offer everything from virtual classes to training in a brick-and-mortar location. That includes options like what we did with the boot camps in Ohio—which were more-intensive but less time consuming and focused specifically on digital literacy.”
In addition to training, the DW program is linked with more than 70 corporate employers, and DW staff assists with job placement. These companies have helped design the training programs so they’re tailored to the needs and skills businesses are looking for in workers. So far, the program has graduated and placed nearly a thousand workers, and it’s recently shifted its focus to a population that’s facing crushing unemployment: military spouses and veterans.
A recent Department of Defense survey found that a quarter of military spouses are unemployed. According to a report from the Atlantic, that’s a rate roughly six times the national average and nearly two-and-a-half times the rate in the majority of the country’s most impoverished neighborhoods.
“Seeing those kinds of numbers pop up again and again, we knew we had to leverage Digital Works to help as many military families as possible,” said Ferree. “So, we launched a pilot program in the Fort Knox, Kentucky, area focused on training for military spouses and veterans. Incredibly, we saw a 100 percent graduation and job placement rate, so we are now expanding this program into the Fort Campbell area.”
Digital Works has plans to launch a location across from the base in early 2020.
“After seeing the impact we had in Fort Knox, Connected Nation received funding through the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs to bring Digital Works to the Fort Campbell area—where there is an even greater need to serve military spouses and soldiers transitioning to civilian life,” said Pedersen. “The key here is that having a remote or telework job means that a military spouse can move without having to find a new job every time their loved one is transferred. This is significant. For example, we had a graduate from our Fort Knox program who moved 11 times in less than 20 years.”
Digital Works has potential to continue to expand to other bases and posts across the country—as well as serve other communities in need in both rural and urban settings.
“The broadband revolution is sparking broad social and economic change,” writes Sallet. “High-performance broadband transforms industries that are basic to everyday life, positively impacting agriculture, education, healthcare, energy, and more. [It] advances skills training to boost individual opportunity, helping to overcome income inequality and economic frustration. [It] spurs economic growth and jobs. It can enable civic participation. It can improve the health, education and learning of community members.”
Connected Nation couldn’t agree more.
You can read the full report from the Benton Institute by heading to this link: Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. Watch the below video for a quick wrap-up on Global Workplace Analytics’ look at how teleworking has changed in America and its potential impact on the economy.
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