The program is unique because it not only addresses the major barrier to adoption — demonstrating relevance of broadband and teaching the skills to use it — but because of the cost-saving incentives it offers. The program virtually eliminates the most oft-cited barriers to non-adoption without using scarce public funds.
That combination has made this one of the most successful digital divide initiatives ever tried. One million Americans have joined, 86 percent use the Internet daily, and more than half use it for work and two-thirds, to access government information and services.
But no good deed goes unpunished. A few outlier critics have claimed the program hasn’t gone far enough. Others don’t like the idea of public-private partnerships, no matter how much good they deliver.
We need every idea on the table to solve this problem. That means scaling up what works. But it’s going to take a village. The digital divide took years of neglect to open so wide; it will take years of hard work to close.
Hilary O. Shelton is NAACP Washington bureau director and senior vice president for advocacy.