Overcoming the Digital Divide: What Needs to Happen?
The digital divide, as a whole, remains an enormous and complicated issue - heavily interwoven with the issues of race, education, and poverty. The obstacle, however, is by no means insurmountable if broken down into specific tasks that must be accomplished. Aside from the obvious financial barriers, the following would help narrow the gap:
As the use of computers and the Internet increases, so does the necessity for access. In the public sector, policy makers and community members must recognize the importance of such resources and take measures to ensure access for all. While increased competition among PC manufacturers and Internet Service Providers has substantially reduced the costs associated with owning a computer and maintaining a home connection, for many households the costs remain prohibitive. Like basic phone service, the government should subsidize Internet access for low-income households. At the same time, the private sector must commit to providing equal service and networks to rural and underserved communities so that all individuals can participate.
More Community Access Centers, Continued Support of Those Already Existing
Community access centers (CACs) are a critical resource for those without access to computers and the Internet at school or work; such programs should continue to receive funding in order to expand and strengthen. According to data collected in 1998, minorities, individuals earning lower incomes, individuals with lower educations, and the unemployed - the exact groups affected most by the digital divide - are the primary users of CACs. In fact, those using the CACs "are also using the internet more often than other groups to find jobs or for educational purposes" (NTIA Falling through the Net 99). Community access centers, therefore, are clearly worthwhile investments.
Additional, Well-Trained Technical Staff
Computers and other technologies alone are not enough. Communities and schools must train and preserve additional, and more qualified staff, alongside new technologies to promote the best application of resources. In addition to understanding the new technologies, the staff must be able to teach others.
Change of Public Attitude Regarding Technology
At the same time, much of society needs to change its attitude concerning technology. Rather than perceiving computers and the Internet as a superfluous luxury, the public should view them as crucial necessities. The public must come to realize the incredible power of new technologies and embrace them as tools for their future and the future of their children.
Given the wide scope of the still expanding digital divide, help of any kind truly makes a positive impact. Fortunately, the government, nonprofit groups, and private foundations have started programs aimed at narrowing the gap. While the following list of programs and sites by no means covers all the programs in existence, it provides a mixed sampling of the types of initiatives currently underway.
The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC)
Enables schools, libraries, and rural health care providers - that could normally not afford them - with network wiring and access to both telecommunications and Internet services. Otherwise known as the "E-rate" program, requires telecommunications companies to provide services to those eligible at rates discounted from 20 to 90 percent. The highest priority and discounts are given to the most economically or geographically disadvantaged schools and libraries, based on the household incomes of student's families. Congress and the FCC approved $2.25 billion in annual funding. In the first year of funding, the program helped connect 80,000 schools and 38 million children.
The Community Technology Center's program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education
Promotes the development of programs aimed at increasing and demonstrating the value of technology in "urban and rural areas and economically distressed communities." The program awards three-year grants on a competitive basis to fund Community Technology Centers.
The Neighboorhood Networks Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
As a community based initiative, encourages the development of resource and computer learning centers in privately owned HUD-assisted and HUD-insured housing in order to make technology more accessible. Each community independently plans, manages, and funds their Neighborhood Networks center, but HUD often provides grants, loans, and volunteer service. The centers mainly offer computer access, computer assistance and training, GED certification, health and social services. The program currently contains 608 active centers, and plans on establishing 705 more with the help of business and community partners.
The AT&T Learning Network
This program offers free online resources to help families, schools and communities use technology effectively to enhance teaching and learning. A "Virtual Academy" offers an array of online courses, while GetNetWise provides a Web-based resource for parents to safely manage children's access to content.
America Online's AOL@SCHOOL
AOL@SCHOOL builds upon the increased access in classrooms by providing a variety of age-appropriate educational content and tools such as encyclopedias, dictionaries and online homework collaboration tools. The program is provided free of charge to K-12 schools.
The Intel Computer Clubhouse
This is a successful program that uses technology creatively to enable under-served youth to acquire the tools, problem solving skills and confidence for successful lives. Intel will support the establishment of 100 Intel Computer Clubhouses in under-served communities worldwide and hopes to touch the lives of more than 50,000 young people.
The Teach to the Future program, in conjunction with the Microsoft Corporation, seeks to train 400,000 teachers in 1000 days in effectively applying technology to improve student learning.
Public libraries: In partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,
Microsoft will donate an estimated $200 million in software to create access
to technology at public libraries that serve low-income communities.
Working Connections: This 5-year, $30 million grant program supports the development and enhancement of information technology training for underserved populations through the nation's community college system.
PowerUp is comprised of more than a dozen nonprofit organizations, major corporations and federal agencies that have joined together to launch a major new multimillion dollar initiative to combat the digital divide. Based in schools and community centers around the country, PowerUP will provide access to technology and guidance how to use it.
Alliance for Latino Community Technology (ALCT)
The ALCT is "an dedicated to preparing Latinos to acquire the skills of technology literacy." The ALCT runs the following programs in an effort to help underserved communities: Pathfinder, a Web-based tool hopes to link people with social services and resources; Edvantage, an on-site training program, provides information technology programs to help Latino non-profit organizations; Cybervan, a mobile technology resource unit is designed to expose technology and its uses in inner city and rural communities.
CitySkills is an online community focused on bridging the gap between urban communities and technology employers by extending technology education and empowering urban residents with real career-building opportunities. The site also offers fundraising tools relative to tech training, community Forums with bulletin boards and classified listings, and relevant research/news.