Clinton gets mixed reviews at Comdex

CHICAGO — Last year, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates delivered the keynote

address at Comdex/Spring 1999 to a standing-room-only audience. Last week,

President Clinton took the podium at the trade show here and spoke to a

less-than-capacity crowd.

Clinton made Comdex/Spring 2000 the final stop on his Digital Divide New

Markets tour, urging high-tech companies to help bridge the gap between

affluent communities with access to computers and the Internet and those

without such access.

"I came here today to ask you to set another trend — to devote more time

and technology, more ideas and energy, to closing the digital divide," Clinton

said. He said more than 400 organizations had signed up to participate in

the initiative. But among show attendees, his call to action received mixed

reviews.

"I don't think the government has any business in this," said Randy Gibson,

a systems administration supervisor at software maker Basis International

Ltd. in Albuquerque, N.M.

"The government does not need to step in and provide free Internet connection

to everybody when you can pretty much get it for free if you know what you

are doing," Gibson said. "The problem is not the rich keeping technology

away from the poor, and the government should not come in and tax people

for a program that probably won't help anyone anyway."

"There are some challenges ahead, but [Clinton] has clearly defined an agenda,

and it will be up to us to execute it," countered Keith Hartley, director

of marketing at SteelEye Technology Inc. in Mountain View, Calif. "The private

sector does owe back to the economy and the government to help the government

spur new markets. It's not enough to capitalize on the existing markets

as the economy changes. We need to work with the public sector."

The president asked information technology companies and professionals to

help give schools access to computers and the World Wide Web, expand internships

and deepen talent pools to include more ethnic and gender diversity.

According to the Commerce Department, 30 percent of white Americans and

36 percent of Asian Americans have Internet access at home, while only 11

percent of African Americans and 13 percent of Hispanic Americans have that

access.

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