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Digital divide, Part 6

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By Todd Cohen

While many nonprofits are trying to improve their own use of technology, some are focused on helping to bridge the digital divide for their constituents, particularly in the face of a big retreat in efforts to close that gap.

Federal and private support for tech-access efforts has plunged in the wake of a “perfect storm” of challenges that included the bursting of the dot-com bubble, 9/11 and the war on terrorism, says Andy Carvin, director of the Digital Divide Network at the EDC Center for Media and Community in Newton, Mass.

More Americans are online than five years ago, he says, yet those with less education still trail in using the internet to plug into the new economy.

“Even if every single household in America had internet access,” he says, “as long as there’s a skills gap, there will be a digital divide.”

The Digital Divide Network has shifted from serving as a clearinghouse of news and resources to providing online discussion space and blogging tools to help its subscribers talk to and interact with one another and publish their own weblogs.

Since the new site was launched in December 2004, the number of subscribers has grown to more than 8,000 in more than 125 countries from 3,000 in roughly 80 countries.

Advances in technology also have outpaced advances in access to technology by underserved communities such as African Americans, Latinos and women, says Kavita Singh, executive director of the Community Technology Centers’ Network, or CTCNet, in Washington, D.C.

“If things are not accessible, affordable, usable and relevant,” she says, “then it’s difficult for anyone to adopt it.”

Federal funding for community tech centers was cut to $5 million in 2005 from $65 million roughly five years earlier, and wasslated for elimination this year, Singh said.

CTCNet and its network of just over 1,000 members in all states, up from 300 five years ago, have shifted their focus from providing local technology access to helping to ensure that community uses of technology address community needs, Singh says.

A two-year-old CTCNet initiative, for example, helps high school students use multimedia tools to create videos and websites that address community problems.

And a partnership among CTCNet and three other networks of community tech centers serving Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean and Latinos in the United States is addressing issues ranging from migrant communities’ tech needs to the flow of money they send back home.

“The promise of technology just to keep people in communication with each other has made a huge impact on the way people can go across borders and keep families connected,” Singh says.

Through CTCNet’s centers, she says, technology “continues to serve as a great equalizer for the social and economic needs of all people.”


Other stories in the series:

Part 1 — Nonprofits face tech hurdles. 
Part 2 — Nonprofits making more strategic use of technology. 
Part 3 — Nonprofits plug into technology from afar.
Part 4 — Nonprofits face funding gap for technology.
Part 5 — Nonprofits find it tough to find tech support.

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