Clinton urges agencies to narrow digital divide

President Clinton on Thursday asked agencies to help reduce the "digital divide"—the gap between citizens that have access to information technology tools and those who do not.

Many Americans, such as those in rural and depressed areas, do not have access to the Internet or personal computers. For example, a recent Commerce Department report found that urban households with incomes of $75,000 and higher are more than 20 times more likely to have access to the Internet than households at the lowest income levels.

Clinton asked Commerce Secretary William Daley to work with the private sector to develop a national strategy for making computers and the Internet accessible to all citizens in an effort to "significantly narrow" the digital divide.

The president also asked other agency heads to expand the network of Community Technology Centers to give low-income people access to technology and to encourage the development of technology that would help them start and manage a small business.

Technology companies and private organizations plan to launch an Internet-based Digital Divide Network that will act as a clearinghouse for information on public and private efforts to bring technology to underserved communities, Clinton said.

In addition, the president said he wants government and industry to provide better technology training for disadvantaged workers and collect lessons learned from grant and educational initiatives. Agencies must report their progress through the Electronic Commerce Working Group.

Speaking at the Digital Divide Conference on Thursday, Daley said he plans to visit 12 cities in 12 months to "shine a spotlight" on the digital divide issue. Commerce will release a report every year measuring the government's progress and highlighting where improvements are needed, Daley said. Similarly, the president plans to travel around the country and draw attention to the issue as part of his new-markets initiative.

David Beier, chief domestic policy adviser to Vice President Al Gore, said it has been the administration's vision that the private sector should lead the effort to bridge the digital divide and the government should support it.

"We need to break the problem into smaller parts," Beier said, speaking at the Digital Divide Conference. "The actual delivery of training and the [necessary] skills has to come from the private sector. It seems we need to either build the platform or provide the incentive."

-- Dan Caterinicchia contributed to this article.

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