West Virginia Broadband Opportunities Program
Visit the project’s website: www.futurewv.org
With a $4.4 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, the Future Generations Graduate School partners with 60 volunteer fire departments to set up public computer and learning centers.
Fire department volunteers, with the support of a local person trained as a computer mentor, manage these broadband learning centers, offer training in basic computer skills, and keep the centers open for a minimum of ten hours per week. In addition, the project refurbishes and sells low-cost desktops and laptops.
To date, 60 fire departments are confirmed partners, with the majority located in West Virginia’s southern coalfields. Additionally, the organization has trained 150 computer mentors from these communities.
Other educational partners include the Monongahela National Forest (online mapping); Partnership of African American Churches (chronic disease self-management with online support groups and Project Alert, a substance-abuse awareness program for youth); Johns Hopkins University (disaster resilience), Adult Basic Education, community and technical colleges, and Mission WV (digital literacy and e-commerce academy).
State Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis said the computer labs “will help us return to the days when the fire department was the hub of a community.” He said the labs also will help firefighters and rescue squad personnel take part in remote training programs now being developed by the state, saving thousands of dollars in travel costs to receive certification.
To better understand the data and evidence of the digital divide, Future Generations trained a team of eight community interviewers to conduct 780 door-to-door household surveys of computer and broadband use in 26 communities. Although 67% of households in program areas own a functioning computer, only 49% have access to broadband, with 21% using the resource to continue their education and 14% to run home businesses.
Copies of these reports are available on the project's website at: www.futurewv.org