Online Census forms keep a low profile

Wired Americans planning to file their census forms over the Internet will be on their own, Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt conceded Tuesday.

Prewitt said that Census officials debated whether to provide instructions about online filing but decided that it would be too confusing for the public. Census instead focused on getting an overall high response rate.

Census forms, most of which began arriving at homes on Monday, do not include information about responding via the Internet instead of by mail. Even though an Internet filing service is available, filers are on their own to find the Census' World Wide Web site and follow its directions. (Start at www.census.gov, click on Form Help, find the 22-digit code on the form mailed to you and go from there.)

The main focus of Census 2000 publicity has been on hard-to-count groups, such as minorities and the homeless, and those groups are the "least likely to have Internet capacity," Prewitt said at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

"There is some advertising on the Web [for Internet filing]," he said, "but it is not widely publicized."

The lack of publicity has had an impact: 2.4 million census forms have been returned by mail, while slightly more than 1,000 have been filed over the Internet.

One of those online filers was Prewitt himself. His advantage? He knows where to find that 22-digit code.

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