Florida empowers low-income kids

Florida has launched a public/private initiative to digitally link underserved children from inner cities and rural regions.

Partnering with PowerUp, a Virginia-based national, nonprofit organization created to address the digital divide, Florida will provide grants to local regions to establish technology centers with up to 1,000 Internet-connected computers.

According to state officials, Florida plans to open 25 to 50 computer sites by the end of 2001 in communities where young people do not have access to information technology. The program will target students between the ages of 6 and 18, and officials said the computers could also be used for workforce training when students are not using them.

PowerUP will provide each site 10 to 20 Gateway Inc. computers, software, technical support and staff training. Private corporate sponsors across Florida will provide the infrastructure, such as Digital Subscriber Lines or cable wiring.

The state will provide a $500,000 grant for other program-related costs, and each site can apply for a maximum of $25,000 from the grant. The sites will own the computers and be responsible for other program-related costs, state officials said.

According to officials, 47 percent of households in Florida have computers, compared with 49 percent of households nationwide, based on information provided by Forrester Research Inc., a market research firm. Forty-two percent of Florida households are online, which is the national average, according to Forrester.

Proposals for grants are due by Sept. 25, and sites will be announced by Oct. 25. Florida A&M University's Institute on Urban Policy and Commerce is the grant administrator. Other partners in the initiative include the Searcy Foundation, Intermedia Communications, AT&T Corp., Universal Studios, Maxcess Inc., Forrester Research, Verizon, Time Warner, iGate Capital, Cenetec LLC, Gulf Power, Semtor, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Florida.

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