A coalition of libraries, foundations, nonprofit organizations, and corporations has launched an information campaign to help bridge the so-called digital divide.
The initiative unveiled last week in Washington consists of a Web-based directory of public Internet services, a toll-free telephone number, public- service announcements on television, and literature to be distributed to civil rights groups, local libraries, and youth centers.
Organizers of the campaign said that people from poor communities who lack easy access to computers and the Internet risk missing out on job opportunities in an information-based economy. The phrase “digital divide” refers to disparities in access to information technology tied to such factors as income, race, or ethnic group.
“Bridging the digital divide is one of the most important civil rights issues of the 21st century,” argued Wade Henderson, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a member of the coalition.
A 1999 analysis by the U.S. Department of Commerce found that African-Americans represented only 7.2 percent of the nation’s computer systems analysts and scientists, and 6.4 percent of its computer programmers; Hispanics have an even lower representation in those occupations.
The new Web-based directory of public Internet services has about 20,000 listings of services that help individuals get access to the equipment, connections, and skills needed to use computer and Internet technologies to pursue their goals.
The free site has a bilingual Internet address: ConnectNet.org for English, and Conectado.org for Spanish. Visitors who type their ZIP Codes into a form will receive the addresses of local libraries, community technology centers, and other sites that offer free online services to the public.
People without Internet access can call a toll- free number, (866) 583-1234, and ask an English- or Spanish-speaking operator for information about local public-access points. The AOL Time Warner Foundation is picking up the tab for that service.
In addition, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation has produced a series of public service announcements, in English and in Spanish, to encourage teenagers to become more computer- literate. Those spots will be aired across the country on the major broadcast television networks, Time Warner-owned cable systems, and the Spanish-language Univision network.
A version of this article appeared in the April 04, 2001 edition of Education Week as Initiative To Help Identify Free Internet-Access Sites