3Com Funds ‘Digital Divide’ Programs in 10 U.S. Cities

Network hardware developer 3Com Corp. (Nasdaq: COMS) has announced plans to donate a total of $1 million (US$) in networking equipment and consulting services to 10 U.S. cities that are ready to implement programs to help minorities and low-income families access the Internet.

The cities to receive assistance from 3Com are Baltimore, Maryland; Charleston, South Carolina; Chester, Pennsylvania; Denver, Colorado; Glasgow, Kentucky; Madison, Wisconsin; New Orleans, Louisiana; Pontiac, Michigan; Providence, Rhode Island; and Chaska, Minnesota.

Examples of programs include a new citywide network in Glasgow that will be owned and operated by the city and link all residents to the public schools and city services. “The network will foster more parental involvement in the schools and to help motivate students to reach higher levels of achievement,” 3Com says.

In New Orleans, 3Com will help install computer kiosks throughout the city to reach students who have dropped out of school and those that may be in danger of dropping out. The new computer network will connect the kids with training alternatives and job opportunities.

Urban Collaboration

The first phase of 3Com’s program, called the “Urban Challenge,” will allocate another $1 million of hardware and support to 10 more cities later this year. The challenge is the upshot of two similar, successful projects that 3Com conducted in Boston, Massachusetts and San Jose, California.

The Boston project, which dates back to 1996, made that city’s public school system the first in the nation to be fully networked, dropping the ratio of students to networked computers from 63-to-1 to 7-to-1. Applications for the second round of grants are due April 15th, and recipients will be announced in June.

The first batch of cities was chosen in collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which has been a vocal supporter of both public and private initiatives to bring inner cities technologically up to speed with the rest of the country.

Narrowing a Growing Gap

3Com joins AT&T, Microsoft and other private sector companies, plus the federal government, as benefactors of neighborhoods that need a boost onto the information highway. The various independent initiatives came in response to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s call last summer for assistance.

Since then, the Commerce Department has held seminars to discuss ways to bridge the so-called “digital divide,” and President Clinton has allocated $12.5 million for grants to local governments and non-profit organizations.

Last summer, the Commerce Department released a study that showed a dramatic and growing gap between higher income suburban families and lower income urban and rural families in their use of the Internet for information, shopping and operating businesses.

According to the study, African-American and Hispanic households are only two-fifths as likely to have Internet access as white households. Additionally, households with incomes of $75,000 and higher, in urban areas, are more than 20 times as likely to have access to the Internet as households with incomes of $15,000 or less, and are more than nine times as likely to have a computer at home.

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