Commerce officials and federal lawmakers chose Coppin State University as the site to unveil a new website providing free internet and computer skills training and a host of best practices tools to help educators instruct new Internet users.

The site, www.DigitalLiteracy.gov, offers a range of services and tutorials including how to apply to jobs online, surf the web, set up social networking pages and protect children online. It was launched by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a division of the Dept. of Commerce that has invested $4 billion in stimulus funding to create or enhance public computer centers around the country.

“We are working to ensure Americans have every resource possible to improve job prospects,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said during the site launch. “In a globalized, 21st century economy, when you don’t have regular access to the high-speed Internet-and the skills to use it – you confront a narrowed world of educational, business, and employment opportunities.”

Locke and U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin announced the initiative in Coppin’s Health and Human Services Building, the location of the university’s 1-year-old community computer center, which was Maryland’s first computer hub funded under the Dept. of Commerce’s broadband initiatives.

Although the Internet has become integral to the daily life of most working Americans – 62 percent use broadband for work – a significant amount of residents don’t have access to the Internet and lack the computer literacy to excel in an increasingly digital society.

The Commerce Department estimates that nearly one-third of U.S. households don’t have broadband access and 28 percent of Americans rarely, if ever, use the Internet. Disparities are notable among minorities, the poor, the less educated, seniors and the unemployed.

Mikulski called the new site “fabulous” because it will help close the digital divide by equipping all residents with the “empowerment tools to go into the 21st century.”

“It is meant to be a one stop shop,” she said at the announcement. Mikulski chairs the Senate subcommittee that funds the Dept. of Commerce.

Federal officials plan to promote use of the online portal in public libraries, where over 30 million people surfed the web in 2009.

Prior to the announcement, the federal leaders and roughly 60 attendees toured Coppin’s computer center and met with Baltimore residents who were receiving computer training. Cardin commended the university’s efforts. “Dr. Avery, you are building the future of America right here in West Baltimore,” he said. “When we saw the faces of the people in the center, we knew Coppin is ahead of the curve.”

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO