Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski laid out the "broadband plan for children and families" Friday at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Referring to children as "our most precious national resource," Genachowski said "we must do everything we can to educate and prepare them to thrive in the 21st century and keep them safe." New technologies, he said, "can expose our children to new dangers, and can potentially outpace the ability of parents to guide their children."
Genachowski had a mostly positive view of technology for kids, especially as it applies to learning. "The benefits of digital learning aren't just theoretical. They're real. One study found that low-income children who use the Internet more at home had higher GPAs and standardized test scores than children who use it less," he said. He added that we need to set a "clear and non-negotiable goal: every child should be connected to broadband."
Outline of tech dangers
He also talked about some of the dangers, but he didn't harp on the more typical fears of predators and porn that have so often been repeated by government officials for years.
Instead, he raised concerns about the more common risk of online harassment; pointing out that "43 percent of kids have been cyberbullied, but only 10 percent tell someone about it."
He also talked about harmful Web sites, referencing those that encourage self-destructive behavior, pointing out that "35 percent of eating disorder patients visit pro-anorexia Web sites."
He talked about the issue of distracted driving : "A quarter of U.S. teens with cell phones say they have texted while driving. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Board, 80 percent of fatal teen accidents are caused by distracted driving." Finally, he cautioned about inappropriate advertising such as children's exposure to Viagra ads and scary movie trailers and the relative lack of advertising for "a healthy food product during children's programming."
He reminded the audience about the "recent Kaiser study that found that children consume recreational media 7 1/2 hours a day, and are consuming nearly 11 hours' worth of content."
Digital literacy and digital citizenship
In addition to focusing on access and safety, Genachowski also talked about digital literacy and digital citizenship which, increasingly, are being seen as critical components to keeping kids safe and productive online.
Digital literacy, he said, isn't just about learning to use technology but "teaching kids to think analytically, critically and creatively, so that they can find relevant information, assess the accuracy and reliability of that information, distinguish fact from opinion, and create and share new content." He also said we "have to teach our children to become media literate so that they can evaluate media content and recognize advertising for what it is."
Finally, he stressed digital citizenship, which he described as "the values, ethics, and social norms that allow virtual communities, including social networks, to function smoothly. It means having norms of behavior that facilitate constructive interaction and promote trust." He pointed out the "unique challenges" of digital communities: "People can remain anonymous or change identities, allowing them to act without regard to consequences." But he questioned "how do we create a framework of online norms and values" and "who determines what these values and norms should be?"
Elements of broadband plan
Key elements of the proposed broadband plan include "modernizing the Universal Service Fund" to include broadband "instead of plain old telephone service." He also called for the establishment of a National Digital Literacy Program that would encompass:
An online digital literacy portal to allow any child, parent, or teacher with a broadband connection to take courses on digital literacy.
A digital literacy corps to mobilize thousands of technically-trained youths and adults to train non-adopters, including families that are hard to reach because of cultural and language barriers.
Better broadband capacity for libraries and community centers so that they can continue to help families become digitally literate.
The FCC chairman called upon parents to take responsibility for their kids' use of digital media. This includes communicating positive messages about technology to their children, setting digital media rules, engaging with kids and using technology together, "teaching personal responsibility and reinforcing basic social norms to encourage responsible online behavior."
You can also read "FCC's positive new plan for digital literacy & Net safety" from my ConnectSafely co-director, Anne Collier.
Click here for a PDF of Genachowski's speech or else watch it on YouTube as follows: