As Stanford students, we are in the heart of Silicon Valley -- site of the largest and fastest creation of wealth ever recorded. By pursuing degrees in Computer Science, we are expressing our belief that technology will guide society and business into the 21st century. Why do we believe so strongly in computers when, for the vast majority of society, computer access is not a reality? Many communities throughout the United States and the world lack adequate technological knowledge and equipment. Even in close proximity to Stanford University, East Palo Alto lacks the quality of teaching and resources that many of the surrounding communities enjoy.





To combat this, an organization entitled Plugged In began giving the community access to the future. Through their computer cluster and teaching programs, they are turning people on to the importance of technology. Our project will explore the current state of the "Digital Divide" and its related causes. We will focus specifically on the East Palo Alto community by examining its technical literacy, identifying the areas of greatest need and implementing a program to aide the community's development. Our hope is that this project will further Plugged In's tremendous success and help spread the benefits of technological change throughout the community.

Defining the "Digital Divide"
Interaction between human and computers has greatly increased as we embark on the twenty-first century. The ability to access computers and the internet has become increasingly important to completely immerse oneself in the economic, political, and social aspects of not just America, but of the world. However, not everyone has access to this technology. The idea of the "digital divide" refers to the growing gap between the underprivileged members of society, especially the poor, rural, elderly, and handicapped portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet; and the wealthy, middle-class, and young Americans living in urban and suburban areas who have access.

Factors Attributing to the Digital Divide
Although the number of Americans with access to computers and the Internet continues to soar on a yearly basis, the digital divide also continues to grow at an alarming rate. On the one hand, sections of society already connected - such as higher income, educated White and Asian Pacific Islander households - are adopting newer technologies faster and are connecting even more. On the other, groups with traditionally lower rates for Internet and computer usage continue to lag far behind. Unfortunately, according to a study conducted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), entitled Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide, the gap is widening along already strained economic and racial lines.

Widening levels of education seem to magnify the digital divide; households with higher levels of education are increasingly more likely to use computers and the Internet. It has been observed that those with college degrees or higher are 10 times more likely to have internet access at work as than those with only a high school education. A study conducted by the NTIA from 1997 to 1998 determined that the gap in computer usage and Internet access widened 7.8% and 25% respectively, between those with the most and the least education.

Not surprisingly, and in direct correlation to education, the levels of household income also play a significant role in the widening gap. Again, the study by the NTIA stated, "In the last year, the divide between the highest and lowest income groups grew 29%" (NTIA Falling through the Net 99). It has been observed that households earning incomes over $75,000 are 20 times more likely to have home internet access than those at lowest income levels and 10 times more likely to have a computer if living in the city or suburban area than in the rural area. Due to lower income levels, poor neighborhoods lack the infrastructure available in affluent areas. Telecommunication facilities are more readily available for wealthier communities and are more attractive for developing companies to establish themselves. As a result, poverty in less fortunate neighborhoods make it less appealing for investments by outside companies, further aggravating the divide.

At the same time, the digital divide continues to widen along very specific racial lines. The difference in computer usage grew by 39.2% between White and Black households and by 42.6% between White and Hispanic households in the period between 1994 and 1998. Hispanic households are roughly half as likely to own computers as White households. Interestingly, race affects the amount of computers in the school. Schools with a higher percentage of minorities have fewer computers whereas those with a lower percentage of minorities have a greater number of computers. As would be expected, the gaps between racial groups narrow at higher income levels, but widens among households at lower economic levels. With regard to Internet access, Black and Hispanic households are falling even further behind: access by White households grew by 37.6% between 1997 and 1998. Hispanic households are nearly 2.5 times less likely to use the internet than White households. The NTIA study also demonstrated the racial disparities in Internet access exist irrespective of income. In a cultural study to determine reasons for the divide other than income, the Hispanic, African-American, and Asian-American communities were studied. In the Hispanic community, it was observed that computers were a luxury, not a need; computer activities isolated individuals and took away valuable time from family activities. In the African-American community, it was observed that African-Americans, historically, have had negative encounters with technological innovations. Asian-Americans, on the other hand, generally emphasize education, resulting in a larger number embracing rising technological advances.
Percent of U.S. Households Using the Internet by Race/Origin

Something Must Be Done
With the technology continually advancing, the issue of the "digital divide" cannot be ignored. In our society, where the distribution of wealth is already heavily unbalanced, access to computers and the Internet is unbalancing the situation even more. Those with computers and access to the Internet are becoming even richer through the power of information, while those without them are becoming even poorer in comparison. According to William Kennard, the Chair of the FCC, "In a society where increasingly we are defined by access to information and what we earn is what we learn, if you don't have access to technology, you're going to be left in the digital dark ages. That's what the digital divide is all about." The digital divide will not close unless there is an initiative to seal the gap. With socio-economic divisions already present in today's society, the digital divide is compounding the effects. It is not just the cost of computers that results in the digital divide, but also the presence of widespread illiteracy among overlooked populations. One out of four adults in the U.S. is illiterate or has limited literacy skill. Technological literacy cannot be promoted if basic literacy skills are lacking. Rectifying the digital divide, according to President Bill Clinton, "is the greatest opportunity the U.S. has ever had to lift its people out of poverty and ignorance." As statistics have shown in the past few years, the gap is continuously expanding.
Note: Asterisk (*) indicates p<.05. All significance tests were obtained using Research Triangle Instituteās SUDAAN software and incorporate sampling weights. Sampling weights provided by Nielsen Media Research specified the probability of a respondent being selected into the sample. These sampling weights were adjusted for number of phones in the household and number of people aged 16 and older in the household, and were also adjusted for nonresponse by post-stratification adjustments to equate sample race, education, age, and gender distributions to Census data (Nielsen Media Research 1997)

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:

Universal Access
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.

Current Programs
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.
  • Microsoft
    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
    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
    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.