Vittorio Hernandez

A group of American companies led by Microsoft will offer free computer training to members of disadvantaged communities so they can compete in the global economy and benefit from a high-speed Internet project spearheaded by the Federal Communications Commission.

Microsoft will provide basic computer literacy training, including how to do online job searches, in schools and libraries in 15 U.S. states and Microsoft stores nationwide.

The software giant will be a part of a group called Connect to Compete, according to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Other members of the group include electronics retailer Best Buy.

The U.S. lags in access to broadband Internet at 68 percent compared to 90 percent in South Korea.

The FCC chairman said gaining computer literacy is vital since more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies such as Wal-Mart and Target require such skills from job applicants.

By hiking the broadband adoption rate to 100 percent, Genachowski said the size of the broadband market in the U.S. would double, which would boost the American economy and retain American leadership in the global economy.

He estimated about 100 million Americans do not have access to high-speed Internet.

While the FCC will help make broadband Internet service available to rural America, the American companies will provide assistance through digital literacy training.

Best Buy will establish Geek Squad teams in 20 U.S. cities that will provide on-site training in basic computer literacy such as the use of email and surfing the Web. They will also train people to conduct classes for groups such as Goodwill, Boys & Girls Club, 4-H and the National Urban League.

More cities will be added next year.