Closing the digital gap – Invest $2.4B in access, Clinton says

President Clinton on Feb. 3 proposed $2 billion in tax incentives and $380 million in new and expanded programs to bridge the “digital divide” between Americans who can use technology and those who can’t.

Fleshing out a proposal he made a week ago in his State of the Union speech, Clinton called for ensuring that all Americans have access to computers and the Internet, and to the training they need to use information technology.

Access to technology “is only a first step,” the White House said in a statement. “We also need to give people the skills they need to use technology, to promote content and applications of technology that will help empower under-served communities, and to ensure that teachers can use technology in the classroom.”

Clinton’s plan includes:

* $2 billion in tax breaks over 10 years to spur private donations of computers, sponsorship of community tech centers and tech training for workers.

* $150 million to help train all new teachers to use technology effectively in the classroom — double last year’s investment by the federal Department of Education.

* $100 million to create up to 1,000 community tech centers in low-income urban and rural communities – up from $32.5 million last year.

* $50 million for a public-private partnership to give more low-income families access to computers and the Internet.

* $45 million – triple the current level — to boost innovative applications of information technology for underserved communities.

* $25 million to speed private development of high-speed networks in underserved urban and rural communities.

* $10 million to prepare Native Americans for tech careers.

Clinton also plans to lead high-tech chief executives on a “new markets” trip the week of April 9 to encourage tech investment for underserved communities.

Concerns about the growing tech gap have prompted a series of studies by groups such as the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Benton Foundation that have documented deep gaps in the tech access and know-how that leave minorities and lower-income Americans outsiders to the information economy.

Those findings, in turn, have prompted a series of initiatives by such groups as the Benton Foundation and the National Urban League to make it easier for underserved communities to get and use technology.

Just last week, however, the Los Angeles Times reported that Clinton’s pledge in his State of the Union speech to help bring the Internet to all Americans “faces one immediate problem: strong evidence that government intervention is coming too late and is a waste of money in an age of virtually free computers and online access.”

The newspaper cited a study last year by Forrester Research, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., that found the “Internet access gap among ethnic groups has all but closed.”

— Todd Cohen

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