Reaching across the digital divide

Gregory Rohde grew up in North Dakota, a land of small towns, large farms

and vast open spaces punctuated by the poverty of American Indian reservations.

His background gives him a special perspective. From his office at the

Commerce Department in downtown Washington, D.C., Rohde can see across the

"digital divide." As the new assistant secretary of Commerce and administrator

of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Rohde's

job is to try to bridge the growing gap between the technological haves

and have-nots.

The digital divide usually evokes images of a gap between rich and poor;

whites and minorities. Rhode knows the divide also separates urban from


"There are phones in 95 percent of American homes, but some segments

of Native American communities still don't have them, like where I grew

up near Fort Yates, [N.D.]," Rohde said. "If you're black or Hispanic or

Native American, there's less of a likelihood that you're going to have

a computer at home...and it's the same thing in rural America. These are

all alarming trends, and that's what the NTIA is all about: reversing these


Rhode took the top job at NTIA in November, replacing Larry Irving,

who headed the agency for seven years.

"I brought in the perspective of an African American who grew up in

the inner city," said Irving, who is now president and chief executive officer

of, an online resource for African Americans that is owned

by basketball legend Magic Johnson. "Greg has the perspective of a white,

rural resident...and both of those groups are at risk."

Rohde's view is different, Irving said, "but it's important to have

different energies put into the job."

As a youth, Rohde was a state champion long-distance runner at Bismarck's

Century High School. He set North Dakota state records in the mile and two-mile

and won all-America honors in track.

Rohde, 38, still looks as if he could turn out a pretty good time in

the mile. He remains an avid runner.

And he will have to move fast to make progress on bridging the digital

divide during the final 10 months of the Clinton administration. NTIA has

been working toward that end since 1994, Rohde said.

The agency also is responsible for supporting the development and growth

of telecommunications, information and related industries, and improving

security for U.S. information and communication systems.

Prior to taking over at NTIA, Rohde worked on the 1996 Telecommunications

Act and the Internet Tax Freedom Act of 1998 as a senior aide to Sen. Byron

Dorgan (D-N.D.).


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