UPDATE: U.S. President Urges Action on Digital Divide

CHICAGO (04/18/2000) - U.S President Bill Clinton today challenged U.S. high-technology companies, from the largest to the smallest, to get involved in programs aimed at closing the gap between the technology haves and have-nots -- the digital divide.

In the first U.S. presidential address ever to a high-technology trade show, Clinton said it was crucial that IT companies spread new technologies to underprivileged people in order to continue the current U.S. economic expansion.

"I am asking you to do this because you can. I'm asking you to do this because it's right. And I am asking you to do this because America needs to have a continually growing economy," Clinton said in his keynote address here today.

The U.S. president said he wanted to address Comdex attendees because they represent a "critical mass" of the IT community.

Specifically, Clinton asked IT companies to support his national call to action issued at a White House briefing on April 4 challenging corporations and organizations to take concrete steps to connect every U.S. classroom to the Internet and make home access to the Net universal. [See "U.S. President Marshalls Action on Digital Divide," April 4.]"If you are not part of this, I hope you will become part of this," Clinton said. "I want you all to ask if there's anything you are not doing that you could do." The president listed things as basic as donating computers to schools and helping to train teachers to make certain they are as comfortable in front of a computer as they are in front of a chalkboard.

More partnerships at the local level, particularly with schools, local communities and local governments are needed, and people are eager for help, Clinton said.

Clinton also asked IT companies to expand their internship programs to attract women and minorities, and he said companies must recognize that government alone cannot meet the challenge of closing the digital divide.

The U.S. president's appearance at Comdex was a stop on his current "new markets" tour aimed at calling attention to areas of the country and pockets of the economy that have not benefited from the current economic good times.

The Internet gives people whom Clinton said were "otherwise completely out of the economic mainstream" an opportunity to earn money. He cited 30,000 people who make their living off the eBay Inc. online auction site by selling, buying and trading, saying that many of them had previously been on welfare.

"Closing the digital divide is one of the most important things we could do that would have the quickest results in alleviating the kind of poverty which is inexcusable in the kind of economy we're experiencing today," Clinton said.

Before his speech, Clinton spent about 40 minutes on the Comdex show floor accompanied by a group of youngsters who participated in Street-Level Youth Media, a government-supported community technology center on Chicago's West Side. The U.S. president spent most of his time at Motorola Inc.'s stand where the company's Personal Networks Group was demonstrating its Mya PDA (personal digital assistant), which provides access to the Internet over a telephone.

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