FCC Plans Online Child Safety Push

When the Federal Communications Commission presents its national broadband plan to Congress next week, it will outline several proposals to drive online learning and boost digital literacy among children, including a concerted effort to address Internet safety.

“If you’re a parent who thinks change is scary, the digital revolution can be like The Shining,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in an address Friday previewing the broadband plan’s recommendations for children and families. “Parents are asking themselves whether they should be embracing new technologies or worrying about them. The answer is we have to do both.”

As part of the FCC’s efforts in broadband and child safety, Genachowski said that he has been working with the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and the Secretary of Education. The proposed broadband plan will advocate the formation of an interagency government task force to promote digital literacy and safe computing.

“Digital literacy isn’t just a good idea. It’s increasingly a job requirement and a citizenship requirement,” Genachowski said.

The education campaign Genachowski described will aim to make kids more media-savvy Internet users, teaching things like distinguishing fact from opinion and advertisements from media content on the Web.

The broadband plan will call for the creation of a national digital literacy corps to develop community-based training programs, as well as an online portal offering computing classes for teachers, students and others.

But Genachowski acknowledged that the government’s role, while important, is necessarily limited. For parents wrestling with their children spending more and more time on the Internet, his message was simple:

“Teach them personal responsibility and offline values don’t end when they go online.”

Among the blights affecting young Internet users that the FCC has unearthed in its work developing the broadband plan is the disturbing fact that while 43 percent of children have been the victim of some form of cyber bullying, only 10 percent came forward to report the incident.

The broadband plan will also include recommendations for how to close the digital divide, advocating the “non-negotiable” goal of ensuring that every child has access to broadband service. More than 13 million school-aged children don’t have broadband access at home, Genachowski said, saying that the divide falls largely along ethnic and economic lines.

For instance, 82 percent of white school children have broadband at home, compared to just 45 percent of Hispanic children, according to the FCC’s data.

“Anything less than 100 percent is not good enough,” Genachowski said.

To address that shortfall, the FCC will recommend a major overhaul to the Universal Service Fund, the federal subsidy to provide low-cost telephone service to poor Americans. The FCC will advocate redirecting funds for telephone service to broadband, without increasing the overall size of the USF.

Additionally, the commission will call for relaxing the rules of its e-rate program, which funds Internet access in schools and libraries, to open federally funded computing facilities to the community outside of school hours.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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