CHICAGO (04/18/2000) - As Comdex/Spring 2000 gears up for a first-of-its-kind appearance by a U.S. president, conference attendees expressed caution on the subject of government involvement in the high-tech sector.
President Bill Clinton today is scheduled to deliver a keynote address at Spring 2000 Comdex. The appearance is part of the president's "Digital Divide" initiative to provide computers and Web access in schools and to low-income families. The president is seeking to drum up support among major high-tech companies and in Congress to gain federal funds for the plan.
Clinton launched a "national call to action" two weeks ago at the White House to address the disproportionate number of poor, minority and rural Americans without access to computers or the Internet. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 30 percent of white Americans and 36 percent of Asian-Americans have Internet access in their homes, compared with 11 percent of African-Americans and 13 percent of Hispanic-Americans.
White House officials said more than 400 companies and organizations have agreed to sign a Call to Action pledge supporting universal Net access in homes and schools. But Clinton may have a challenge inspiring Comdex attendees, who expressed caution about the Digital Divide initiative.
"I don't think the government has any business in this," said Randy Gibson, systems administration supervisor for software tools developer Basis International Ltd. in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "The government does not need to step in and provide free Internet connection to everybody in the world when you can pretty much get it for free if you know what you are doing. The problem is not the rich keeping technology away from the poor, and the government should not come in and tax a bunch of people for a program that probably won't help anyone anyway."
Paul Steven, assistant director of information systems at the University of Chicago Business School, said he would like to see the executive branch of the government work with the Commerce Department to address privacy concerns.
"The Commerce Department is really tackling Net commerce issues, like privacy," he said. "Privacy is the biggest issue right now because people are going online and providing information, and a lot of people don't realize how much of their privacy they are giving up. On a lot of Web sites, the only choice for participating is to provide information about themselves, and they don't realize how that information will be used."
As part of the Digital Divide tour, President Clinton stopped in Shiprock, New Mexico, today to honor Houston-based Compaq Computer Corp. for working with Tech Corps, a national nonprofit organization focused on using technology to improve K-12 education. Compaq provided $500,000 in funding and worked with Tech Corps to develop an online technical assistance program for schools without support services.