Atlanta extends Internet access to urban poor
The digital divide is still wide and deep, said Jabari Simama, executive director of Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell’s Office of Community Technology. But the city is working to close that gap through its Community Cyber Center program.
Simama spoke at last month’s E-Gov conference in Washington.
In the United States, 27 percent of blacks and Hispanics have access to the Internet, as compared with 49 percent of the total population, Simama said. There’s also an “attitude divide,” he said. Seventy-five percent of the poor in Atlanta don’t think Internet access is important.
Also, the urban poor are less likely to have Internet access than the rural poor. Nineteen percent of those who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits in rural Georgia have access to the Internet compared to 7 percent in urban areas.
For more than two years, Atlanta officials have been spreading Internet access via Community Cyber Centers in several low-income neighborhoods. Each of the 15 centers has 20 to 30 PCs tied to a T1 line.Students at any age
The centers are funded by a public-private partnership, Simama said. The city received an $8.1 million grant from AT&T Corp. Gateway Inc. and EarthLink Inc. of Atlanta also provided PCs and Internet access.
About 10,000 Atlantans have taken classes through the centers, including a 92-year-old man, Simama said.
Some residents can’t make it to the centers, so the program sends a cyber bus to them. Equipped with 12 PCs, an instructor and driver, the 35-foot-long bus conducts computer classes all over Atlanta.
“To me, the revolutionary potential of the Internet is not the quantity of information it makes available,” Simama said. “It’s that it gives everybody a voice.
“When we first put a digital camera into kids’ hands, we tell them to find the oldest person in their neighborhood and interview them,” he said. When they return with the camera, “we’ll show them how to put the story on the community portal. They learn interviewing, writing, creativity and more.”
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