State funnels cash to tech centers

Communities and organizations throughout Illinois are getting more than $30 million in grant money to help eliminate the digital divide.

The money comes from the state's new telecommunications bill (H.B. 2900), part of which adds money to the state's Eliminate the Digital Divide program. The program helps create and administer Community Technology Centers for residents in low-income communities. Ameritech Corp. is paying for the program under a condition of its recent merger with SBC Communications Inc.

Under the agreement, Ameritech is to pay $3 million a year for five years into two digital divide funds administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (www.commerce.state.il.us). The funds are:

    * The Digital Divide Elimination Infrastructure Fund, which will provide grants to corporations willing to invest in getting high-speed Internet network connections to underdeveloped areas.

    * Another fund, the Program to Foster Elimination of the Digital Divide, will help build the technology centers.

So far, the state has awarded 24 grants totaling $1 million to local institutions and technology centers.

"People think the digital divide is only economic, but it can be a lot of things," said Mary Reynolds, Illinois' chief technology officer. "It can be geographic, in that the [telecommunications companies] won't go there. It can be from a lack of training, because there are no services available; it can be because of disabilities; it can be because English is a second language."

Reynolds said that such a diversity of factors causing a digital divide is the reason for an equally diverse list of recipients.

DuSable High School in Chicago, for example, will receive $50,000 to establish a center where students, parents, local workers and community residents can learn basic computer skills such as how to access the Internet and e-mail. The money will also be used to create programs for after-school academic support, computer-assisted GED and literacy programs, career information and technology workshop programs.

The Brothers Keeper's Community Resource Center in Chicago/Cook County is getting $49,990 to create a center to help youth and adult ex-offenders learn basic computer skills, including how to access career information and perform job searches via the Internet.

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