A Minnesota Model for Bridging the Domestic Digital Divide

by Peter Elwell

Americorps Community Technology Empowerment ProgramSince 2004 the Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) has connected individuals with technology expertise to community and non-profit organizations with a distinct need for these skills.

CTEP is part of the AmeriCorps program, which is federally funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service.

If you live in or are visiting the Twin Cities you may have indirectly (and unknowingly) experienced the work of CTEP members serving a diverse set of organizations such as: The WorkForce Center, Saint Paul Public Library and Minneapolis Telecommunications Network by helping these organization better provide digital literacy resources to low-income and immigrant communities in the area.

“For me, the opportunity to enable young people to stretch their creativity and get engaged in science and technology– for their own benefit, and for all of our sake — was irresistible,” says Ellie Kunkel, a current CTEP member serving as the Youth Technology Literacy Coordinator for Ramsey County Library – Roseville.

“In the 21st Century, access to technology is a crucial social justice and literacy issue,” says Aaron Mendelson, second year CTEP member serving as the News and New Media Training Assistant at KFAI Radio. CTEP arose from discussions in 2001 and 2002 about the technology needs of local organization and the communities which Americorps wanted to serve. The assumption could easily be made that the communities and organizations were lacking computers, but in reality, donated computers always seemed to be the easiest to procure.

Although hardware is essential, it is also the part of a technology center that donors are most likely to fund; what was lacking were the people to design, develop and lead programming around digital literacy. This type of programming looks different in each situation, but today CTEP members are helping community members of all ages to better access economic, educational, social and civil opportunities. Catherine Settanni, one of the founders of CTEP says, “We designed the CTEP program to specifically bridge this gap— providing the human resources needed to turn ‘rooms with computers’ into community technology centers — where youth and adults could get the support they needed to improve their technology skills and knowledge.”

The work of CTEP received national attention when, in March of this year, the FCC unveiled its National Broadband Plan to Congress. One of the plans major goals is to ensure every American has the opportunity to become digitally literate. The FCC’s key recommendation to achieve this goal is to launch a National Digital Literacy Corps, which would “organize and training youth and adults to teach digital literacy skills and enable private sector programs addressed at breaking adoption barriers.” It is a great approach, and one that was crafted by the founders of CTEP over six years ago.

Additional CTEP resources:

CTEP Broadband Video

Digital Inclusion Forum