Future Generations Graduate School’s West Virginia project is using the community presence of fire stations across the state to increase broadband access. In a novel twist on the concept of community anchor institutions, Future Generations WV will use BTOP funds to outfit and open 60 computer centers in fire stations, with a focus on low-income counties. The project has already opened 30 centers in 18 counties. Currently, 26 centers hold basic computer skills classes, and educational partner organizations are contracted to run additional training on topics such as e-commerce, chronic disease self-management and substance abuse, and community-based emergency response and awareness. Many of the courses are offered as self-paced learning so that users can fit the training around their busy schedules.
FutureGenerations WV is using survey research in each community to assess needs and measure project impact. Eight surveyors conducted 900 door-to-door household surveys from July to November 2010. While 66 percent of the households owned computers, only 48 percent had access to broadband. Respondents noted that high costs and lack of access were two main reasons for not using broadband at home.
The volunteer fire departments and emergency rescue squads manage the centers and maintain at least one computer mentor at each center to assist the community in training and using the computers. The public computer centers have already proven particularly helpful in communities struggling with high unemployment. An unemployed paramedic commented, “I don’t feel I can afford the extra bill for the internet. I am in the process of completing online courses for the requirements of the nursing class I am pursuing. Upper Laurel has been such a blessing to me.” So far 783 West Virginians have been active users at the centers. Future Generations hopes that the centers will help residents to pursue higher education and retrain for job opportunities. In addition, volunteer fire department and rescue squads are learning to submit reports electronically and access supplemental online training programs for certifications and continued learning.
Last Updated: October 17, 2011.