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Digging deeper – Help wire poor, tech firms told

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By Cindy Stiff

NEW YORK – High-tech companies donated a smaller share of profits to charity in the 1990s and need to do more to close the “digital divide” and plug low-income families into the Internet, a new study says.

The study, by the Conference Board, recommends that high-tech firms target low-income communities by teaming up with nonprofit groups.

By doing so, the report says, tech companies can tap into new labor pools and markets.

“The high-tech industry faces a tremendous marketing challenge,” says Thomas E. Cavanagh, senior research associate at The Conference Board and author of the report, “Community Connections: Strategic Partnerships in the Digital Industries.”

“In order to wire up the rest of the population,” he says, “the industry will have to reach out to lower-income consumers who have very little experience with computers.”

According to the study, leading digital companies have donated as much or more to charities than the average U.S. corporation since 1989.

Still, the percentage of income used for philanthropy by the highly profitable tech industry has fallen steadily. The decline in giving by the computer industry since 1991 has been particularly steep — from 1.6 percent to 0.7 percent of income.

The Conference Board study offers examples of promising approaches:

* BellSouth committed $25 million in 1996 to provide wiring, Internet access, free phones and business lines to 6,665 schools in nine southeastern states.

* Bell Atlantic joined an educational nonprofit to set up a multimedia technology trail for 135 seventh graders and their teachers. Participants received PCs in their homes and 40 more computers were set up in classrooms at Christopher Columbus School in Union City, N.J.

* IBM made 21 grants of $2 million each to schools as part of its “Reinventing Education” program.

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