Divide deeper than we think
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Sep 28, 2000
"E-Government Services and Computer and Internet Use in Texas"
A multifaceted, collaborative approach is needed to tackle the digital divide,
which is a much more complex issue than people think, a panel of state information
technology experts said Tuesday.
"No silver bullet," said Otto Doll, South Dakota's information and telecommunications
bureau commissioner, referring to one solution to the digital divide problem.
He moderated the panel during the National Association of State Information
Resource Executives annual conference in Baltimore.
Doll said the digital divide — the gap between people who have little or
no access to computers and the Internet and those that do have access —
is complicated by geography, economics, education, accessibility and culture.
"It's not just an urban or rural problem," Doll explained. "It's inner city
all the way to the frontier."
As technology advances, he said many people cannot afford to buy new computers
every few years to keep up. Technology must address people with physical
disabilities who may find computers and the Internet difficult to use. Culture
plays a major role in how a group views technology, he said, stressing that
many people are also uncomfortable with computers.
A survey conducted in Texas this year showed that of the people who didn't
use computers or the Internet, most said they were more concerned about
children and the Internet, they weren't interested, they didn't have time
or they found it too difficult, said Eddie Esquivel of the state's information
He said minority groups, such as Hispanics and African Americans, also cited
that telephone and Internet service provider charges were too high. But
he added that the survey found little difference regarding access between
rural and non-rural areas. He pointed out that Texas residents may have
different technology needs than the rest of the country and urged other
states to conduct their own surveys.
Rick Webb, former chief information officer of North Carolina who now works
for PricewaterhouseCoopers, said the issue needs to be addressed from a
"holistic" standpoint and there needs to be collaboration between the state,
county and local levels.
David Molchany, CIO of Fairfax County, Va., said his government's integrated
voice response system — with 24-hour telephone access and two dozen information
kiosks scattered throughout the county — and a local government Web site
are the ways his county has addressed the issue.
Government services such as paying taxes and traffic fines, accessing county
information, applying for county jobs, getting a library card or renewing
vehicle registration can be found on the Fairfax County systems. "This is
literally taking government to the citizens wherever they are," he said.