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Meeks touts technology plan to bridge digital divide

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The nationwide program will identify community-based organizations such as libraries, schools and non-profit groups that can help alleviate the digital gap by training people who lack computer skills in geographic areas that have been left behind.

"This is an opportunity that I hope will help us to bridge the digital divide so that all people can share in America's prosperity," Meeks said. "The Internet is a golden opportunity for everyone in our country. It is a chance for rich or poor to share the same information."

The congressman and Rhode were joined on a tour of southeast Queens by representatives from Hewlett Packard, AT&T, Verizon, IBM and AOL to examine how government and the private sector can shrink the divide between those benefiting from technological advancements and those who are not.

The group stopped at the Jamaica Business Resource Center, the Jamaica Arts Center, the Queens Borough Public Library, IS 231 in Springfield Gardens and at York College to examine community organizations that have started to make inroads into teaching the Internet and new technology.

Meeks said he hoped the community organizations and the representatives from the private sector would talk about bringing more technology in to southeast Queens, which has a large African-American and Hispanic population.

Meeks said there are new markets for business and technology in rural and urban areas of the United States and President Clinton is working to help these communities shrink the technology gap.

Rhode said his office has kept statistics since 1995 using census data and found a significant gap between those with computer access and who feel conformable using the Internet, and those with no access.

"There is a growing gap," Rhode said. "Minorities and people who live in the rural areas of the country are falling behind what has become central to our economy."

He said statistics on computer and Internet usage show half the households in America own computers and 40 percent have Internet access. Based on those numbers, Rhode estimates that half the U.S. population will be online by next summer.

Even with this type of growth, Rhode said, the gap is still widening.

"African-American and Hispanic communities are still behind the national average," he said.

According to Rhode, only 23 percent of the African-American and Hispanic communities use the Internet, and the gap has grown by 3 percent over the past two years.

"I can't underscore the urgency that we need to figure out how to lower the gap. People who do not know how to use the new technology will be at a severe disadvantage," Rhode said.

He said the initiative would help address the problem at both the federal and local levels because each community's needs differ.

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