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Google Fiber Helps Cities Close Digital Divide

In each Google Fiber city, two local workers will be selected to collaborate with nonprofits within each community to reach residents lacking computer literacy.

by Claudia Grisales, Austin American-Statesman / May 22, 2015

(TNS) -- Google Fiber will launch a search today for more than a dozen workers who will be deployed as part of a fellowship program to address digital divide issues in its eight U.S. markets, including Austin.

In Austin, as in each Google Fiber city, two local fellows will be selected to work with certain nonprofits within each community to reach residents lacking computer literacy.

The workers will be hired this summer, attend training at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters and earn an annual salary of $33,000 plus benefits. In Austin, one fellow each will be assigned to work for digital access group Austin Free-Net or workforce assistance group Skillpoint Alliance.

“More than 60 million Americans still aren’t using the Internet at home,” Google Fiber’s digital inclusion program manager Andrew Bentley said in a blog post Thursday morning. “While there are organizations across the U.S. that want to help bring these people online, many of them don’t have the in-house expertise or resources to launch new programs.”

Google Fiber said it will work in conjunction with the Nonprofit Technology Network, or NTEN, to launch the new “Digital Inclusion Fellowship” program. The program will pair 16 people — two in each city — with local groups to spend a year working on the digital inclusion programs. In addition to Austin, Google Fiber metro areas are Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C; Kansas City, Nashville, Provo, Utah; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; and Salt Lake City.

Each fellow will be chosen by NTEN from their local community, Google Fiber said. NTEN will provide the fellow training in Mountain View on how to build digital inclusion programs. Overall, Google Fiber will spend about $1 million to support salaries and benefits along with stipends to individual organizations.

The program is the first of its kind, said Parisa Fatehi-Weeks, Google Fiber’s Austin community impact manager.

More than 50,000 residents don’t have Internet access, Fatehi-Weeks said. And of those, 40 percent aren’t interested in access, while 42 percent say they need someone’s help to get online.

In light of those figures, the effort to launch new leaders to the forefront of the digital divide issue will be key, she added.

“That’s what this fellowship program is all about. It’s to cultivate new leaders,” she said. “The folks we are looking for, they have a passion for working with under-served communities, strong communication skills and really experienced in the local community.”

In terms of additional funding, each participating organization will get a stipend of $5,000 to $10,000.

Fatehi-Weeks said Google Fiber is hoping to spread the word quickly on the program since training will begin in July after the hires are made.

Amanda Longtain, director of programs for Skillpoint Alliance, said the new Google Fiber fellow will be focused on teaching computer literacy courses in the East Austin corridor. Skillpoint Alliance has 32 staffers.

“Our local nonprofits always need additional support, so we are really excited to have this kind of support and to have a full-time employee to reach new communities and ZIP codes,” she said.

At Austin Free-Net, the selected fellow will work on campaigns and other efforts to raise awareness of broadband access in the region. The group, which has eight full-time workers, will see a significant impact, said Juanita Budd, executive director for Austin Free-Net.

“This is a gift,” Budd said. “I am super excited about the potential.”

Google Fiber said anyone interesting in applying can go to until a June 10 deadline.

©2015 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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