July 8, 1999, 9:30 a.m. EST
Contact: Mary Hanley
Ranjit de Silva
NEW COMMERCE REPORT SHOWS DRAMATIC GROWTH IN NUMBER OF AMERICANS CONNECTED TO INTERNET
But new data shows gap between Information "haves" and "have nots" Persisting and, in some cases, widening
WASHINGTON--More Americans than ever have access to telephones, computers and the Internet--tools critical to economic success and advancement--but a digital divide between the information "haves" and "have nots" persists, and, in some cases, has widened significantly, according to a new Commerce Department report President Clinton released today as part of his New Markets Tour.
Access to computers and the Internet for Americans in all demographic groups and geographic locations soared at the end of 1998, due, in part, to the success of pro-competition policies, the report said. Over 40 percent of U.S. households owned computers, one quarter of all households had Internet access and 94.1 percent of American households were connected by telephone at the end of 1998.
But the bright picture is clouded by data that show significant disparities continue between certain demographic groups and regions and, in many cases, the gap between these groups has grown over time, the report said.
"While we are encouraged by the dramatic growth in the access Americans have to the nation's information technologies, the growing disparity in access between certain groups and regions is alarming," Commerce Secretary William M. Daley said. "We must ensure that all Americans have the information tools and skills that are critical for their participation in the emerging digital economy," Daley said.
"America's digital divide is fast becoming a 'racial ravine'," Larry Irving, assistant secretary of Commerce for Telecommunications said, citing the report's data identifying certain minorities, low-income groups and residents in rural areas and central cities as among those lacking in access to the nation's information resources.
"It is now one of America's leading economic and civil rights issues and we have to take concrete steps to redress the gap between the information haves and have nots," Irving said. The disparities between the information " haves" and "have nots" discussed in the report include:
The report recommended that pro-competition policies continue to be vigorously pursued as part of the overall plan to close the digital divide. Community access centers such as schools and libraries will play an important part in helping to increase access by all Americans to information technologies in the short-term, it said. The 1998 data illustrate that community access centers have been particularly well used by groups that lack access at home or at work.
For the long-term, pro-competition policies that reduce the cost of information services and universal service initiatives will remain a key part of the solution to the digital divide, the report said.
Several private sector initiatives are being launched to help the federal government close the digital divide. The organizations launching the initiatives include: Oxygen Media Inc., which plans to launch by February 2000 a series of shows on cable network featuring Oprah Winfrey learning how to use a computer and the Internet. Ameritech and the National Urban League have announced the five cities they have selected as sites for new, state-of-the-art Digital Campuses that will provide local communities with the latest hardware, software and skilled staff to teach local communities information technology skills. America Online and the Benton Foundation will establish a one-stop shop for local communities and provide a clearinghouse of information and resources for connecting to information technology programs. And 3COM will provide training to help prepare students for 21st Century networking careers.
The report, "Falling through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide," is the third on the digital divide issued by the Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The study is based on data collected by the Census Bureau from 48,000 U.S. households and analyzes telephone, computer and Internet access by Americans with regard to race, income, education and geographic location. It also deals with how Americans are gaining access to and using the Internet.
Editor's Note: For more information about the report, "Falling through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide," contact Kelly Levy at (202) 482-1880.