President Clinton issued a “National Call to Action” Tuesday to combat the “digital divide” between people who have computer access and knowledge and those who do not.
A host of Internet companies and organizations have already agreed to lend their support, providing hardware, software and training for youth, families and communities in danger of being left behind in the Internet age.
Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) plans to supply $1 million in advertising to help AmeriCorps recruit highly skilled volunteers for technology-related projects. 3Com (Nasdaq: COMS) will help fund a YWCA program to provide computer networking training for teenage girls.
More than 400 other companies and organizations also signed on yesterday for projects the White House hopes will help close the gap between computer haves and have-nots.
Ethnic and Economic Factors
The digital divide has been a topic of discussion in the Clinton administration since last July, when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) issued its report, “Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide.”
According to the NTIA’s report, African-American and Hispanic households are only two-fifths as likely to have Internet access as white households. Additionally, urban households with incomes of $75,000 (US$) and higher are more than 20 times as likely to have access to the Internet as households with incomes of $15,000 or less.
The same digital divide exists in U.S. schools, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. At the start of the 1998-99 school year, only 39 percent of classrooms in poor schools were connected to the Internet, compared to 74 percent in wealthier schools, the center said.
Children First, but Adults Included
The White House project will focus on meeting two specific goals: providing computers, networks and Internet access for every child in every school, and making home and community access to the Internet universal.
“For children to succeed, they need to master basic skills at an early age,” the White House maintains. “The ability to use technology to learn and succeed in the workplace of the 21st century has become a ‘new basic’ — creating a national imperative to ensure that every child is technologically literate.”
Though reaching children early is a priority, the administration is targeting adults and families too. “For all families and communities to benefit from the New Economy, we must ensure that all Americans have access to technology and the skills needed to use it,” the White House says, noting the digital divide projects will help “motivate more people to appreciate the value of ‘getting connected.'”
Yahoo! will donate banner ad space and the Corporation for National Service will commit $10 million to help recruit 750 qualified AmeriCorps members to implement projects targeting youth, families and communities. According to research firm Media Metrix, about 45.5 million unique visitors access Yahoo’s sites each month.
The volunteers will provide technical support for school computer systems, tutor at Community Technology Centers and offer information technology career training. The national service group will also spend $2.5 million to fund projects under the Learn and Serve program, which encourages young people to volunteer in their communities while going to school.
Gender Gap Addressed
According to the White House announcement, women number less than 30 percent of U.S. computer scientists and computer programmers.
3Com will train 600 girls ages 14 through 16 in computer skills in a new program called NetPrep GYRLS. Working with 30 YWCAs around the country, the 3Com program will help the girls focus their technical education on networking — a set of technology skills that is in high demand — and will help them gain industry-standard certification.
3Com is not new to the digital divide campaign, having agreed in January to donate a total of $1 million in networking equipment and consulting services to ten U.S. cities for programs to help minorities and low-income families access the Internet.
Clinton Spreads the Word
Clinton said he will tour the country April 17 and 18 to promote corporate and community activism for digital divide programs. The president, who has conducted two such tours in the past two years, will speak this time in Chicago; East Palo Alto, California; and Shiprock, New Mexico, the home of the Navajo Nation. In late April, he will also visit rural North Carolina to urge telecommunications companies to extend broadband Internet service to rural areas.
“Access to computers and the Internet and the ability to effectively use this technology are becoming increasingly important for full participation in America’s economic, political and social life,” the White House says.