Remarks of Assistant Secretary Rohde at Networks for the People 2000

Entrepreneurship: Non-Profits @ Internet Speed
October 30, 2000

Remarks of Assistant Secretary Gregory L. Rohde
Networks for the People 2000
Entrepreneurship: Non-Profits @ Internet Speed
Arlington, Virginia
October 30, 2000
 

"STANDARD TIME"

Good morning. I hope everyone remembered to adjust your clocks this weekend to return to standard time. This weekend returning to standard time had more than a temporal meaning for me. You see, Congress is still in session. Not only is it a rare occurrence that live Senators and Members of Congress haunt Washington at Halloween in an election year, but Congress did deliver some encouraging news late last week.

During the last few years, those of us who have believed that the Technology Opportunity Program (TOP - formerly known as TIIAP) is a vitally important program that can help thousands of under served people throughout the Nation gain access to telecommunications and information technologies have had to endure under funding. This past year, for example, TOP was at its lowest level of funding in its 6 year history - $15 million. As a result, we were only able to award 35 grants out of the 667 applications we received. We saw some really good applications this year and it was heartbreaking to make the tough decisions to pick out only 35 for funding. While many more were worthy, the limited funds meant that the federal government was not going to be part of the solution in many needy communities where someone has crafted a very innovative idea that should be supported.

I am very pleased to tell you that last week House and Senate appropriators agreed to increase funding for TOP at the level requested by the President: $45 million. Although the Congress and the Administration still have to resolve some issues before this funding will be final, it is very encouraging to see TOP return to where it should be, at the funding levels sought by President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

Since its inception in 1994, the Clinton/Gore Administration has rightly understood the value and importance of a program like TOP which is based on a "bubble up" theory of wisdom. That is, the great ideas don't have to come from Washington but from local communities around the country. TOP is a program where the federal government recognizes and awards the great locally-generated ideas about how to close the digital divide.

The last five years the Clinton/Gore Administration has had to fight for TOP funding against some significant odds. I know that we have not been alone in that fight and I want to give a heartfelt "thank you" to those of you who have urged Congress to support the TOP program. Many individuals, non-profit organizations, and companies - some are here today at this conference - have been good friends to TOP. Thank you for helping make a difference.

As I mentioned earlier, NTIA was only able to award 35 TOP grants this year. The limited funding made this grant round more competitive than ever and the overall quality of applications made the decision making very difficult. At this time, I would like to recognize the 75 people who represent the 35 TOP grants that we announced last month. I would like each of the grantees to stand up and be recognized.

The class of 2000 grantees include some very innovative technology applications that are:

  • using mapping and data sharing technologies to fight the spread of infectious diseases;

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  • using video communications to help battered women file complaints from the safety of a shelter, without having to risk confrontation with their abusers;

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  • using computer networks to promote local businesses and neighborhood volunteerism; and

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  • using the Internet to facilitate community dialogue and input into city and county development plans.


I have had the privilege of seeing a couple of this year's projects work first hand. One project is providing computer training to African American high school students in a struggling neighborhood of Washington, D.C. and then requiring those students to use their acquired computer skills to not only create career opportunities for themselves but also to take lap top computers to home bound senior citizens in their community to help them access the benefits of being online. The See Forever Foundation is using a TOP grant to help build a future "of inclusion" for kids and seniors who face the challenges of inner cities that have been left behind in the past. NTIA is proud to use its TOP grant money to support this creative idea of training students of the Internet generation and at the same time having those students reach out into their neighborhood to seniors whose generation lived through Jim Crow laws and segregation.

The week before last I saw how TOP is helping to support a project in Sante Fe, New Mexico that is using information technology to preserve the culture and language of Native American people of the Southwest. Among this year's grantees is a project that is using a web site to provide virtual tours of a Native American cultural museum. Some incorrectly assume that technology and culture are at odds. This project demonstrates how technology can help preserve the cultural heritage of our Native Americans. Something which will benefit all of us.

Towards "Digital Inclusion"

The Administration views TOP projects like these and the hundreds of others that NTIA has funded the past 6 years as key efforts to "close the digital divide." TOP projects have been working to close the digital divide community by community. In addition, TOP projects have attacked the issue from its many facets: using information and telecommunications technologies to improve education; advance economic develop strategies; enhance public safety; and bring health care to the isolated.

The additional funding provided by Congress (hopefully) will enable TOP to continue to address the specific needs of under served populations at a time in which timing is critical.

A couple of weeks ago, President Clinton and Secretary Mineta released the 4th in its series of reports by NTIA called "Falling Through the Net." The reports, which we started in 1995, track who is online and who is not.

Last year's report was subtitled: "Defining the Digital Divide." That report documented significant gaps within our society with respect to computer ownership and Internet access.

This year's report adopted a new theme which reflects a new way of looking at the issue and a new reality. When our new Secretary Norman Mineta came on board the Commerce Department last summer he said that he wanted us to start speaking a new language. "No more talk about the 'digital divide'" he said. "I want us to start talking about how we can go from a digital divide to digital inclusion."

The subtitle of this year's report is: "Towards a Digital Inclusion." This subtitle is very appropriate because it reflects the fact that we have indeed crossed a new threshold - computers and the Internet are becoming the norm rather than the exception in our society. Over half of Americans own computers and 41% of Americans are online. At the current rate of growth, more than half of Americans will be online at some location by next summer.

The report also found that computer ownership and Internet access grew dramatically over the nearly 2 year period since the last Census Bureau data was collected for all income, educational, and racial groups. The urban/rural disparity with respect to computer ownership and Internet access has virtually disappeared and the gender gap is gone. Great progress is being made to bring more and more Americans into the new economy.

But equally important to the findings of the progress is the fact that a gap remains and in some cases is growing between minorities and disabled persons and the national average.

While Blacks and Hispanics have made great gains in Internet connectivity, only 23.5% of Black Households and 23.6% of Hispanic households are online compared to the national average of 41 percent.

Our report collected first time data on disability access and on broadband deployment. In these two areas, a troubling gap exists. Persons with disabilities are half a likely to be online and share in the benefits of the information age as others. And while the computer ownership and Internet access gap between urban and rural has closed, another geographic digital divide is emerging as advanced telecommunications networks - commonly known as broadband - are deployed. Although nearly 11 percent of Internet users in this country are utilizing broadband technologies like DSL or cable modem service, far fewer rural residents have access to these high speed networks.

This finding is consistent with an earlier report by NTIA released last spring which showed that in communities under 10,000 in population less than 5% had access to either cable modem service or DSL service. In contrast, in cities over 100,000, fifty-six percent had access to DSL service and cable modem service was available in 65% of cities over 250,000.

Those figures and the stories they tell, are the reason you are here, and the reason I am here. Our TOP grant program is one effort to help the progress toward digital inclusion, toward recognizing that being online increasingly will be necessary to participate fully in the society -- to do things like finding a job, or doing homework. But, as more and more people get online, and as more and more professional, commercial, educational and civic opportunities are found online, those who are not connected are even more disadvantaged than they are now.

As the Internet becomes more central to our economy and key to how we learn and communicate, it is increasing more critical for everyone to have access. The latest Falling Through the Net report underscores the urgency that we achieve digital inclusion. The Internet revolution has given our Nation an unprecedented opportunity to create economic and social progress for all Americans. As the center of our social and economic system shifts from requiring access to natural resources and the elements of the industrial age to access to computers and communications systems, the ability of our Nation to collapse the barriers of the past is greater than ever.

Because so much progress has been made our efforts to address the needs of under served Americans has a new urgency. The reason is that some much is at stake. If most of America is learning and doing business online, then those that can't are going to be at a serious disadvantage. Progress has created a new urgency for obtaining a digital inclusion - that is the message of this year's Falling Through the Net report.

The "Dot-Org" Role and Partnerships

The new economy is riding on the dot-com wave which is making millionaires and billionaires and then unmaking them in just a couple of years. But we should not let the dot-com craze overshadow the importance of the dot-orgs. There are 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the U.S. play such a vital role in working with government and the business sector to help extend the benefits of the new economy to more and more Americans.

It's time to praise the "dot-orgs" out there who dedicate their lives to helping our people in need, to preserving our environment, and enriching our culture. People don't often become billionaires by feeding the hungry at soup kitchens, by providing hospice care for the dying, by teaching adults to read, or by providing after-school activities for our youth, but they enrich our society. The wonders of the information revolution will not erase the fact that "the poor will always be with you." Regardless of our society's economic success in the new economy, there will always be a need for non-profit organizations that dedicate themselves to addressing the needs of the poor and isolated.

Information and telecommunications technologies can help non-profits fulfill their traditional missions. NTIA and it's TOP program can be part of the solution. We ask our grantees to tell us about the problems that they encounter as they carry out their projects. Through the reports that our grantees have filed, we have collected an enormous amount of knowledge to share. Those reports are online for all to see and to share.

There is also a real opportunity for the private sector to help by donating not just their hardware and software, but their talents and expertise. Excellent examples exist -- most notably the NetDay efforts that brought so many networking talents to the task of wiring schools -- of corporations encouraging their employees to lend their expertise to community efforts. If this type of technical assistance could be organized, not just around a one-time event, but on an ongoing basis to the whole range of community-based nonprofits, could make a tremendous difference.

TOP is a partnership program. It relies upon the contributions of non-profits, state, local and tribal governments, and the private sector. The Clinton/Gore Administration has never believed that digital inclusion can be achieved solely through government support. We also know that the Internet revolution is too important for the government to sit on the sidelines and just see what happens. Through TOP and other important programs such as the E-rate, Community Technology Centers, and teacher training efforts at the Department of Education, the Administration has worked with the private sector and state, local, and tribal governments to ensure that all Americans can share in the benefits of the new economy.

Over the years, TOP grants have gotten support from a number of private sector companies. This year's grants will benefit from contributions from companies such as 3Com, Cisco, ESRI, Microsoft, Sun, Cellular One and Verizon. These companies have offered technical assistance, equipment and software, and cash contributions. These contributions are invaluable and I'd like both to honor them and to challenge the industry at large to get even more involved. Even if Congress follows through and gives us a higher level of funding than we now have, we will still be unable to award all grants we'd like to.

I encourage industry and foundations to look through the applications for FY 2000 posted on our website (www.ntia.doc.gov), and to support those in your area or in your fields of interest. Our website contains a search engine which will enable you to find proposed projects by location or subject area. There are literally hundreds of great local ideas that will help build a society of digital inclusion that are worthy of support but NTIA was not able to fund this year. I encourage the organizations and companies that share the value that America cannot afford a divide to find a project and support it. We all benefit by your participation.

Before closing, I want to recognize the invaluable work that is being done by NTIA staff who make so many personal sacrifices to make TOP a success. Steve Downs and Judy Sparrow have labored tirelessly over the years to build a TOP program that is, in my judgement, one of the most efficient and useful programs in the Federal government. And, TOP would not be what it is if not for the talented work of Bernadette McGuire-Rivera whose leadership has borne the fruits that we see today in the hundreds of great TOP projects that have benefitted thousands of people throughout the country. Please take the time to thank these folks for their work.

I want to close by encouraging you make the most of this conference. Reinhold Niebuhr said: "nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone." This conference is about creating partnerships and sharing information. Take the time to meet each other especially the TOP grantees. So often we find that these face-to-face connections are the best way of spreading ideas and knowledge.

Thank you very much.