House Committee Aims to Bridge Digital Divide

SAN MATEO (04/14/2000) - The House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee on yesterday introduced bipartisan legislation that is designed to increase computer use in the home and encourage businesses to provide computers to their employees.

Called the DATA (Digital Divide Access to Technology) Act, the legislation comes at a time when President Clinton is campaigning to narrow the gap between those who can afford technologies such as computers and those who cannot.

"The DATA Act is a good first step in helping to address the digital divide," said Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia -- one of the two representatives who introduced the act -- in a congressional statement. "The DATA Act will not ensure universal access ... in all of our communities, but the DATA Act helps to bring us a step closer to that goal."

The legislation lessens taxes on an employee's purchase of computer equipment in hope that more businesses will develop programs designed to offer workers' families increased access to computers at home. A wide variety of such programs have sprouted up at several industry leaders, such as Ford Motor Co., American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and Intel.

"The goal of the DATA Act is to create digital opportunity for millions of American families by breaking down the barriers of the tax code, so businesses can provide access to these tools for their employees," said Republican Rep.

Jerry Weller of Illinois in the statement.

The crux of the act is that it treats Internet access and the first $1,260 of the value of a computer and its peripheral equipment and software as a working benefit not subject to income tax.

"By enlisting employers in the battle to eliminate the digital divide, we will help to better prepare our kids to compete in the new economy," Weller added.

Clinton is expected to round up his campaign to bridge the digital divide next Tuesday in an address at the COMDEX/Spring 2000 trade show in Chicago. That speech will represent the first time a president has addressed IT leaders at a major industry event.

Additionally, a congressional roundtable at COMDEX on Wednesday will address issues facing the technology industry and discuss the Congressional Technology Agenda, including additional steps being taken to allow technology access to all Americans.

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