Inclusion tour focuses on digital divide

New Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta visited the Philadelphia Senior Center Sept. 7 as part of a national tour to highlight innovative programs and activities that provide online access to those without digital tools.

The visit comes on the heels of a report that shows how the Commerce Department's Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) is helping public-service organizations use information technology to strengthen and improve communities.

Mineta's "Digital Inclusion" tour will stop in about a dozen cities and builds on efforts by his predecessor, William Daley. Mineta will visit a few West Coast cities this fall, where he will focus on underserved populations, such as elderly people, disabled people, American Indians, and those in urban and rural areas, a Commerce official said.

The Clinton administration has identified closing the digital divide as a top priority.

The percentage of elderly U.S. residents that use the Internet lags far behind other age groups, according to 1998 statistics compiled by Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Mineta visited computer classes and met with students at the Philadelphia center to stress the importance of getting seniors to use the Internet. He also witnessed the rollout of easy-to-use software developed by Generations on Line, a new, nonprofit Philadelphia corporation devoted to Internet literacy and access for the paper generation.

The organization will provide the self-training software to senior centers, libraries, retirement homes and other locations where older people congregate. The cost to the centers is minimal and funding is available, according to the corporation's Web site.

The NTIA report released Sept. 5, "Community Connections: Preserving Local Values in the Information Age," is a compilation of case studies that explores how TOP funding is helping communities access government databases, generate their own information, and get training and hardware so that they can better connect to influence local government and share in the global economy.

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