Computer, Internet access bridges 'digital divide'

The key to bridging America's "digital divide" and "racial ravine" is computer and Internet access in the home, but that is not the only problem lawmakers and citizens need to address, according to Larry Irving, former assistant secretary for communications and information at the U.S. Commerce Department.

Irving, who also held the top post at the National Telecommunications Information Administration, said there are four digital divide problem areas that need to be addressed: access at home; access in K-12 schools; access at colleges and universities; and access throughout the economy. He made the remarks on Tuesday at "Resolving the Digital Divide: Information Access and Opportunity," a program sponsored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and held at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C.

Irving, who now heads his own Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, said high schools, colleges and the overall culture in poor areas of the country do not prepare minorities properly for the Digital Age. "We're not providing enough people with the requisite skills on the technology side," he said.

Irving suggested the E-Rate program, a federal program that requires telecommunications carriers to provide services to eligible schools and libraries at discounted rates, as a possible solution. "We need to continue fighting for the E-Rate program," Irving said. "It's the only thing that [is] giving any sense of equity with regard to [the connectivity of] schools and libraries," he said. "We also need to explain the value of this technology to our children," he said, asserting that children who want to "Be Like Mike" should be talking about Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corp. in addition to the famous basketball player.

Looking ahead, Irving said the next potential problem area is broadband access to the Internet. "I'm worried the disparity might only be exacerbated with regard to broadband access," he said.

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