U.S. President Marshalls Action on Digital Divide

WASHINGTON (04/04/2000) - U.S. President Bill Clinton today said working to solve the problems presented by the digital divide is a worthy federal investment and he urged the U.S. Congress, corporate America and the country's nonprofit organizations to join in the effort.

Speaking here at a White House briefing to kick off a "national call to action" on the digital divide, Clinton said the technology gap between ethnic groups and other segments of the U.S. population is not a threat, but "the greatest opportunity the U.S. has ever had to lift people out of poverty and ignorance."

The term digital divide describes the disproportionately higher number of underprivileged people, especially poor, rural, elderly and handicapped Americans, who don't have access to computers or the Internet, compared with the wealthy, middle-class and young Americans living in urban and suburban areas who do have such access.

The national call to action challenges corporations and organizations to take concrete steps towards the goals of connecting every U.S. classroom to the Internet, providing every student with multimedia computers and working to make home access to the Net universal. Clinton said 400 companies and organizations have already agreed to sign the call to action pledge.

The call to action lists providing learning tools for school children and creating digital opportunities for every American as its main goals, but it also urges Americans to take on other targets, including training teachers to integrate technology into their lessons, providing schools with high quality online content and educational software and bringing technology to every neighborhood through community centers.

"For the rest of the year we will try to inspire hundreds, indeed, thousands, more to sign up," Clinton said today. "We will work with Congress, across party lines, to build support for budget and legislative initiatives to meet these goals."

The U.S. government has acknowledged the digital divide problem, and has sent out alarms about the issue over the past year. For example, A U.S. Department of Commerce study released in the second quarter of last year showed that about 30 percent of all white Americans and 36 percent of Asian Americans have access to the Internet at home, while only about 11 percent of African Americans and 13 percent of Hispanics have home Net access.

The data also showed that households with an income of US$75,000 or more are 20 times more likely to have access to the Internet than households at low income levels and are nine times more likely to own a computer.

Clinton said today these gaps won't narrow unless government, business, educators, librarians, civil rights, religious leaders, labor union leaders and community-based organizations work together.

The president also said the focus of his third "new markets" tour beginning later this month will be the digital divide and finding ways to help communities take advantage of the tools of the Internet age. One of the stops on his tour will be Chicago, where Clinton will speak at the Spring Comdex show and meet with representatives of major computer and Internet companies.

Clinton has been making so-called "new markets" tours of disadvantaged parts of the U.S. to bring attention to their situation despite the prosperity elsewhere in the country.

The tour also will take Clinton to East Palo Alto, California, where the president said 20 percent of the residents live below the poverty line demonstrating that "even in the heart of Silicon Valley, there is still a substantial digital divide."

Clinton added that while on his tour he would make the case that new technologies can be an incredible tool of empowerment. "If we work together to close the digital divide, technology can be the greatest equalizing force our society or any other has ever known," he said.

Several announcements will be made during the tour, but Clinton highlighted four:

-- A $12.5 million investment in the U.S. youth public service program AmeriCorps, most of which will be used to create an "E-Corps" of 750 new recruits dedicated to technology programs in the federally funded community service organization;-- A $1 million investment from Web portal company Yahoo Inc. that will be spent on an Internet advertising campaign to enlist volunteers with high-tech skills for AmeriCorps' digital divide initiative;-- A partnership between networking equipment vendor 3Com Corp. and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) that will launch a $330,000 program called NetPrep Gyrls offering girls aged 14-16 training in computer networking; and-- A pledge from the American Library Association to help bridge the digital divide by working with its members to create or expand "information literacy" programs in at least 250 communities around the country.

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