Digital Divide

Georg (media@web.net)
Tue, 5 Oct 1999 20:19:33 -0400


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Date sent:      	Tue, 5 Oct 1999 16:41:25 -0400
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From:           	Kevin Taglang <kevint@BENTON.ORG>
Subject:        	Headlines Extra -- Digital Divide

In partnership with the America Online Foundation, Benton will be tracking
digital divide issues and solutions in the coming months. Every other
week, we will be posting to this list a Headlines Extra that provides
summaries of digital divide stories beyond what we cover in our daily
Communication-related Headlines service.

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HEADLINES EXTRA -- DIGITAL DIVIDE 10/5/99

RURAL AREAS
        A Small Town Reveals America's Digital Divide (Business Week)
        Internet Finds Home on the Range (IBD)

INCOME
        Speech: Poverty in America (FedNewsServ)
        2000 Candidates Turn Attention Back to Poverty (Roll Call)

PHILANTHROPY
        High-Tech Access Closes Digital Divide (Austin A-S)

POLITICAL DISCOURSE
        Pressing the Flesh Online (Newsweek)


RURAL AREAS

A SMALL TOWN REVEALS AMERICA'S DIGITAL DIVIDE
Issue: Rural Communities
A look at the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV) and the surrounding
area. Blacksburg is  the most wired town in the nation -- more than 85% of
its 36,000 residents (including 24,000 students) are online (the national
average is 32.7%). By contrast, only 14% of residents in the surrounding
area are connected to the Net and only 20% even have access to a 
computer.
In Blacksburg, mostly white and mostly college educated, "the biggest
surprise to me was how local the BEV has become," says BEV founder 
Robert
Heterick. "Rather than use it to go beyond the immediate community and
help teach folks outside to get onto the BEV, most people have used it to
build a new one right here." One area resident compares Blacksburg's
Electronic Village to what she imagines an Alpine village to be: "All
nestled in the middle of steep hills, their own little community, and when
somebody strange comes in looking for help, everybody runs inside and
looks out the window while they're there instead of opening the doors."

Early efforts to proselytize the merits of technology and diffuse it into
communities were not frequent or successful. People in Blacksburg "had the
education to be curious about it all and had heard of the Internet, even
in 1993," recalls Andrew Cohill, BEV's director. But folks outside the
town were in the dark, and many still are. "We could pick any county in
Southwest Virginia and dump $ 50,000 of equipment on them and say, boom --
here's an electronic village, but unless people out there have an
understanding of what this technology is and why it might be important to
them, the stuff is not going to make a bit of difference," Cohill says.
And Virginia Tech, he says, doesn't have the budget or the charter to
train everyone in the region. The costs for high-speed Internet access for
University-connected people in Blacksburg is less than $9/month; for
others, the costs are $32.50/month. Although many in the area hoped to be
part of BEV, the high costs of hardware and connections and the lack of
training has closed doors instead of opening them: "We felt kicked out of
the village," says one resident. Contributing to the problem is a lack of
interest for many of the unconnected because they do not know what they
are missing: The Internet haves must find a way to introduce folks to the
technology and then to make access meaningful to those without. It's the
difference between giving people a book and teaching them to read.

Stepanek concludes: In talking both to the members of BEV and those
looking in from the outside, it's clear that plunking a bunch of computers
and modems in a community won't solve the problem. Training, computer
literacy, and community outreach are also necessary if [rural] towns ...
are to be brought into the Internet Age. And perhaps most of all, the
outsiders must be given reasons why the Internet is relevant to their
lives and work. [SOURCE: Business Week (p. 188), AUTHOR: Marcia Stepanek]
(http://www.businessweek.com/)

INTERNET FINDS HOME ON THE RANGE
Issue: Rural/Broadband
How Valley Telephone Cooperative Inc of Texas and other rural telecom
providers have figured out how to provide broadband services in rural
areas. In 1998, the company began offering DSL services over traditional
cooper lines -- over distances not thought possible. But now that
technological problems have been solved, political hurdles must be faced:
Why? Because in solving its high- speed connection troubles for rural
areas, Valley Telephone and other companies camouflaged a bigger
difficulty: There still aren't enough customers to make the investment in
high-speed networks worth it. Valley Telephone first offered DSL service
for $36/month, but without universal service subsidies, the company
estimates it would have had to charge $200/month. Closing the digital
divide between rural and urban areas may mean choosing between regional
bells and their competitors.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 forbids the Baby Bells to offer long
distance service before they open their local markets to competition --
the Act does not distinguish between voice or data services. So, the Bells
are now asking for new laws to distinguish between voice and data
services. Cable operators, Internet service providers and small telecos
are asking that the 1996 Act be kept as it is. [SOURCE: Investor's
Business Daily 10/4/99 (A1), AUTHOR: Joseph Guinto]
(http://www.investorsbusinessdaily.com/)


INCOME

SPEECH: POVERTY IN AMERICA
Issue: Income/Minorities
While outlining the Clinton Administration's accomplishments in reducing
poverty in the US, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling
addressed the importance of the digital divide. "If we allow a generation
of middle-class children, children in suburban areas to grow up whizzing
from one computer to another, while a generation of poorer children stay
computer illiterate, we will be sitting by as a new divide helps widen the
race and income gap we are seeking to close." Sperling noted that during
another technological revolution -- when electricity was introduced to the
workplace -- there was a parallel movement toward high school education.
As a result, a flood of new workers were prepared for and benefited from
the revolution. "The question we face today," Sperling said, "is whether
or not we will generate a wave of technologically literate workers who can
meet the demands in information economy or whether we will simply let the
rewards go only to the few who have those skills."

The Clinton Administration has increased investment in education
technology from $23 million when it came to office, to $700 million in
funding already enacted and a $800 million proposal in this year's budget.
With the addition of $2.25 billion/yr through the e-rate program, the
total is nearly $3 billion/yr in funds to close the digital divide. The
Clinton Administration continues to fight for more funds -- through the
Labor-HHS bill which includes support for community technology centers (a
proposal from Congresswoman Waters), as well as training for middle school
teachers. [SOURCE: Federal News Service, 10/1/99 AUTHOR: Gene Sperling,
Director, National Economic Council] (http://www.fnsg.com/)

2000 CANDIDATES TURN ATTENTION BACK TO POVERTY
Issue: Income
The "left behind" poor have displaced the "forgotten middle class" for the
attention of the year 2000 presidential candidates. Gov George W. Bush
(R-TX), Vice President Al Gore (D) and former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-NJ)
have all positioned poverty as one of their central platform planks. Gov
Bush and Mr. Bradley have only begun to outline the poverty issue in their
statements, calling for education reform and encouraging direct community
interventions. VP Gore has the slight advantage of building on statements
made during his tenure as Vice President. Gore's statements have focused
on the uninsured and educational reforms to address the digital divide
affecting lower-income schools. [SOURCE: Roll Call, AUTHOR: Morton M.
Kondracke]


PHILANTHROPY

HIGH-TECH ACCESS CLOSES DIGITAL DIVIDE
Issue: Philanthropy
[Editorial] The computer is now what the typewriter and filing cabinet
used to be for businesses, but even in Central Texas where computer
ownership percentages are very high, many educators and business leaders
are concerned that the poorest ZIP codes are being left behind. Although
it is note solely responsible for bridging the digital divide, the
high-tech industry has an important role to play with the education system
in promoting technology skills among all groups. Melinda and Bill Gates,
for example, have recently announced support for 1,000 college scholarship
per year for minority students. Dell Computer has three-prong approach to
giving: foundation, corporate and executive giving. Through its diversity
programs, for example, Dell funds computer and technology programs in
classrooms and neighborhoods centers. The recently created Entrepreneur's
Foundation encourages startup companies to contribute small portions of
their stock options to trusts. When the company goes public or is sold,
the proceeds go to a nonprofit. [SOURCE: Austin American-Statesman 10/3/99
(J2), AUTHOR: Editorial Staff]


POLITICAL DISCOURSE

PRESSING THE FLESH ONLINE
Issue: Politics & the Internet
Getting elected has gone beyond kissing babies and promising chickens in
pots. The process of "E-campaigning" is becoming increasing critical to
the chances of politicians getting elected. The 2000 election is the first
election where all presidential candidates have a Web site. Some, such as
the Forbes camp, have attempted to use e-mail as a campaign building tool
- others are viewing the Web as a "must have" effort. Political
candidates' new focus on the importance of their online presence opens up
deeper issues. While the candidates are aware of privacy concerns for site
users and have made Internet topics planks in their platforms, the
potential for a new unrepresentative "virtual primaries" is yet to
addressed. A current California initiative to allow online balloting has
the possibility of expanding the power of those with Internet access while
diminishing the power and voice of those without. [SOURCE:  Newsweek
Sept.20,1999, (p. 50), AUTHOR:  Howard Fineman] (www.newsweek.com)

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