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Program To Award $26 Million in Technology Grants

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As part of its National Information Infrastructure initiative, the U.S. Commerce Department is offering schools and nonprofit groups an opportunity to compete for a share of $26 million in grants to improve access to telecommunications technologies.

The department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced this month that it is accepting proposals from schools, libraries, and other organizations for the matching grants.

"This initiative reflects the Administration's strong commitment to insuring that every American has the opportunity to the enter the 'information age,''' said Larry Irving, the department's assistant secretary for communications and information.

The Clinton Administration has carefully steered away from committing the federal government to building the "information highway''--high-speed communications networks carrying voice, video, and data. Instead, it has sought to leave that work to private firms and public-private partnerships.

But Vice President Gore has said government has a role to play in fostering the data networks, in part by funding pilot programs that demonstrate ways to use the networks to serve the public good.

Officials said the new program of aid for the telecommunications and information infrastructure is designed to target funds to potential users of the new technologies that are unable to afford the hardware to implement their plans.

The grants could offer welcome help to K-12 educators struggling to obtain access to the networks that telephone companies, cable-television concerns, and others are bringing to the schoolhouse door.

The grant program consists of two separate categories.

The first is aimed at projects that utilize diverse telecommunications technologies and can serve as model programs. The second is to support planning projects that suggest applications of technology at the local, state, regional, or national level.

The closing date for proposals is May 12. Grants are expected to be awarded by Sept. 30.

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