Report Highlights Digital Divide

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Washington -- A report released by the U.S. Department of
Commerce argued that a "digital divide" prevents access to critical Internet
technology for many Americans.

The divide affects women and minorities most, the study
said.

Assistant secretary of commerce Larry Irving released the
report -- "Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide" -- to coincide
with an announcement on the same topic by President Clinton in Anaheim, Calif.

The report -- the third in a series issued by the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration within the Commerce Department -- shows
that more Americans are using Internet technology than ever before.

But as the use of such technology has increased sharply for
some, many Americans still do not possess basic telephone, computer or Internet access.

The report highlights such disparities utilizing income,
race/origin, education, household, age, region and state as its primary criteria.

Stating that one of the key civil-rights issues in the
future will be access to technology, Irving pointed out that minorities are among the
least likely to go online.

"If you are an African American or a Hispanic
American, you have about a one-in-10 chance of being connected to the Internet,"
Irving said. "For those of us in the administration, we would like to see those
numbers for the minority reach the majority."

Also at risk of falling behind the technology curve are
women, single-parent families and the rural and urban poor, the report said.

Irving said that while the Clinton administration has
tentatively committed $65 million in next year's budget to fund community technology
resources, closing the information gap was both a public and private enterprise.

"We need public-sector initiatives and private-sector
initiatives," he added. "If we can get the best of both ... we will get there
faster."

As part of the administration's partnership with the
private sector, Irving introduced several speakers who are committed to bridging areas of
the technological divide.

Citing that female heads of single-parent households are
among the least connected to the Internet, Oxygen Media editor in chief Sarah Bartlett
introduced an upcoming cable-television series entitled Oprah Goes Online.

Oprah Winfrey -- whom Bartlett credited with improving
literacy rates among women with her public- and private-sector efforts -- will star in the
series, which is aimed at bringing more females online.

In addition to funding promised from the administration,
Irving announced that organizations such as Ameritech Corp. and the National Urban League
Inc. have allotted funds to establish community Internet centers, known as digital
campuses, in Aurora, Ill.; Cleveland; Detroit; Indianapolis; and Milwaukee.

Oxygen said it would also offer other programming;
in-school and online curricula; internships and mentoring programs; and technological
support.

3Com Corp. global market-development director David Katz
said that since Internet technology will be required for many jobs in the future, digital
education is crucial in keeping the U.S. economy afloat.

"The growing digital divide is directly at the heart
of a labor shortage that is growing every day," Katz said. "If we fail to
provide today's students with these technological skills, we will also have an economic
divide ... If we can't fill these jobs, we simply can't grow."

America Online Inc. senior vice president Kathy Bushkin,
who announced an interactive Web site devoted to researching the problem of the digital
divide, said more people should know how the Web can improve their lives.

"The key is to get people excited about what the
Internet can provide for them so they can see value in going online," she added.

States News Service

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