Divide deeper than we think

"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

resources department.

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.

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