Urban study shows need for tech training

More than half of low- to moderate-income, inner-city adults know little

or nothing about the Internet, but an overwhelming majority of them have

a desire to learn, according to a study of five urban areas.

The study, released Jan. 15, questioned 1,600 adults in Newark, N.J.;

Hartford, Conn.; Brooklyn and Harlem, N.Y.; and Boston during October and

November last year. The survey's sponsor will use the results in developing

a plan to help adults in those urban areas become more computer literate.

Of the 1,600 adults surveyed, 752 had an annual household income less

than $40,000. The study found that 77 percent of those with an income greater

than $40,000 use a computer at home and 61 percent are comfortable being

online.

Other major findings were:

* The number of respondents who said they knew little or nothing about

the Internet varied widely between cities, from the lowest in Boston (45

percent) to the highest in Newark (69 percent)

* Among adults who earn less than $40,000 and have less than a high

school education, 70 percent didn't have a computer; among adults with a

college degree, it was 40 percent.

* Almost one in two families without a computer said they could not

afford one. Affordability was found to be a problem in African American

households (64 percent didn't own a computer) and Hispanic households (55

percent).

* 80 percent of those unfamiliar with the Internet said they likely

would participate in training if given a free computer and Internet access.

The study was commissioned by FleetBoston Financial Foundation and conducted

by the independent University of Massachusetts Poll. The foundation is part

of FleetBoston Financial Corp., the county's eighth-largest financial holding

company.

Sean Stanton, FleetBoston's senior vice president of e-commerce and

strategic planning, said the findings would help the company develop its

CommunityLink project, a business model to help adults in urban areas become

more computer, Internet and finance literate. FleetBoston primarily serves

customers in the Northeast.

The company would start prototype projects in two neighborhoods in Newark

and Boston, Stanton said. It would help provide computers, Internet access

and training to people in those communities who are FleetBoston customers.

The project also would team with local community organizations to provide

training to anyone who wants it and help develop neighborhood Web sites,

he said.

"We'll be the catalyst to develop neighborhood portals. Or if there

is a neighborhood portal, we'll be there to strengthen it," Stanton said.

He said other financial institutions are addressing the digital divide

through schools, but he believes FleetBoston is the only one to focus on

adults.

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