New Report Concludes Federal Programs Critical to Bringing A Nation Online
Washington, D.C. — Today, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund and the Benton Foundation, with support from the Ford Foundation, released a new report that concludes that continued Federal leadership is essential to bringing a nation online, given the significant technology gaps that remain along economic, racial and geographic lines.
Bringing a Nation Online: The Importance of Federal Leadership examines data released earlier this year by the Department of Commerce in its report “A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet” which showed substantial gains in access to computers and the Internet for all Americans. The report released today underscores that despite these gains; a significant divide remains based on income, race and ethnicity, geography and disability. As a result, many Americans have yet to witness the significant social, civic, educational, and economic benefits of the information age.
The report spotlights the critical work that two programs ? the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) and the Community Technology Centers (CTC) program ? are doing to narrow these access gaps and ensure that we become a true nation online. Bringing a Nation Online profiles 44 TOP and CTC projects in 25 states that, individually and collectively, demonstrate the federal government’s success in assisting a wide range of Americans gain access to technology, enhance economic opportunity, and build community services. These projects provide ample testament to the power of these federal programs to leverage millions of dollars in matching resources and to serve as catalysts for new partnerships and innovation to build digital opportunity. Despite these achievements, the TOP and CTC programs are slated for elimination in the Bush Administration’s FY03 budget.
“Bringing a Nation Online shows the important role the federal government is playing in supporting innovative, community-based partnerships that can move people and communities from poverty to prosperity,” said Wade Henderson, Counsel of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund. “The Commerce Department’s data should be used to guide and strengthen federal programs that bridge the opportunity divide, not as an excuse to eliminate them, as the Bush Administration has proposed.”
For example, the report shows a significant gap in technology access and use based on race and ethnicity. While Internet use among Whites and Asian American/Pacific Islanders hovers around 68%, use rates for Blacks (30%) and Hispanics (32%) trail far behind. One place that this gap is being addressed is through the federally supported CTC grant program. One grantee, the AdEdge Community Technology Center in El Paso, Texas, provides Hispanic residents with access to technology and is training them for computer-related jobs. As the report notes, many people who would otherwise have to remain on welfare or continue in low-paying jobs now have the opportunity through AdEdge to become self-sufficient and contribute to the El Paso economy.
Similarly, while the Department of Commerce data show that people with disabilities use computers and the Internet half as often as other Americans, the TOP program is helping to fund projects which train people with mental retardation for Internet-related jobs at the North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities at Minot State University.
“Eliminating successful technology programs is a slash-and-burn approach to policymaking just when these investments are beginning to increase workforce competitiveness” noted Benton Foundation president Andrea L. Taylor. “The good news is that the federal government has jumpstarted hundreds of community technology centers, sparking innovation in many rural and low-income neighborhoods. However, scuttling programs that offer new approaches to human activity that could strengthen our democracy, undercuts community efforts to provide economic opportunity for all Americans.”
To date, TOP has awarded 530 grants, in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, totaling $192.5 million and leveraging $268 million in local matching funds. The CTC program has awarded 227 grants based on a $107.5 million allocation from Congress that has leveraged $92.5 million in non-federal matching funds.
Earlier this summer, a coalition of over 100 national organizations led by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights launched the Digital Empowerment Campaign (digitalempowerment.org) an education and outreach initiative to ensure that the TOP and CTC programs are not eliminated.
Support for this report came from the Digital Media Forum. The Digital Media Forum is a project of the Ford Foundation established to encourage collaboration among its grantees in the area of media policy. This report was written by Leslie Harris & Associates under the direction of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund and the Benton Foundation, on behalf the Digital Media Forum, as part of the Forum’s ongoing efforts to assure equitable access to new information and communications technologies.
The entire report can be accessed online at /publications/bringinganationonline