Connect to Compete (C2C), Inc. and the Ad Council today announced a national three-year public service campaign to promote digital literacy and motivate individuals and families to access free community resources and training. Beginning in January 2013, the campaign will focus on reaching the estimated one fifth of American adults who have yet to adopt the Internet and broadband communications for work, healthcare, education, civic participation and socialization. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), digital literacy is one of the top three reasons Americans don’t use computers and the Internet, with 46% of non-users reporting that they lack the necessary skills. A third of the country still does not subscribe to broadband at home.

C2C is a private, nonprofit corporation created to harness the power of the Internet to improve the lives of low income Americans and their ability to thrive in the global economy.

The Ad Council is a private, nonprofit organization that uses volunteer talent from the advertising and communications industries, the facilities of the media, and the resources of the business and nonprofit communities to deliver critical messages to the American public.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced the campaign during the National Cable & Telecommunications Association Cable Show in Boston. ”Neither the public sector, private sector, nor the nonprofit sector alone can tackle the broadband adoption gap and unleash the benefits of high-speed Internet for the 66 million Americans who don’t have the basic digital literacy skills to find a job online or access educational content,” Genachowski said in a statement. “Partnerships across sectors are an important part of the solution. This campaign will help connect millions more Americans to broadband, and empower them to reap the benefits of the 21st century digital economy.”

Ed. Note:

It’s a start. The glaring irony surrounding the majority of digital literacy resources in this country is that they are promoted mostly online. The situation is comparable to giving a non-reader a pamphlet listing resources for learning to read. What has been missing is a strong marketing message using old media to promote the importance of learning new media.

The disconnect is no doubt driven by the fact that most of the government and private money — and there is not much of either — goes into creating digital literacy learning programs, not digital literacy advertising, marketing and promotion. As a result there is no buzz among non-users, no urgent sense that digital literacy is not an option anymore.

Public service announcements have been successful at promoting public safety messages such as earthquake, flood, fire and tornado preparedness, but they have never been applied with the necessary scale and professionalism to the approaching digital illiteracy disaster.

Many other nations in Europe, Asia and the Mideast are far out in front of the U.S. in efforts to spread digital literacy throughout their populations. Governments and private organizations have gotten the word out about the benefits of digital literacy as well as the dangers of standing on the outside of the Digital Age looking in.

The Ad Council has access to people and organizations that can sell just about anything to anyone. They are masters of the science of designing, targeting and delivering messages. If the campaign is robust and A-level, it could generate the type of awareness that convinced a lot of people to wear seat belts when they didn’t think they really needed them. A savvy old media campaign could motivate the millions of people who are afraid, complacent or in denial about the vital importance of digital literacy.

But, it must be understood by the Ad Council, C2C and others that the target population is a lot bigger than the percentage of adults who don’t have broadband or don’t use the Internet. Hopefully, the announced public service campaign will reach beyond the obvious non-adopters to the staggering number of people, mostly over the age of 30, who use the Internet and other digital tools, but are functionally illiterate in the full-spectrum of application.

The vast majority of Americans are digital citizens by default and remain unaware that literacy 2.0 is fundamental.