So what’s all this talk about the “digital divide”-that invisible yet vast gulf between those with access to the Internet and cutting-edge technology and those without? Hardly a day goes by without a glowing news report about a new program, initiative or incentive aimed at helping the poor get their hands on computers or otherwise benefit from today’s new technologies.
What happens, however, once you turn off your television or fold up your newspaper? Where exactly are these programs taking place? Who can you call? Where can you sign up to participate? This is where the Digital Divide Network (www.digitaldividenetwork.org) comes in.
Companies from across the computer hardware, software, telecommunications and Internet industries have come together to launch a national clearinghouse that provides information on what the private and public sectors are doing to bridge the digital divide. The Digital Divide Network was one of several directives put forth by President Bill Clinton during the summit on the digital divide held this past winter. “For the first time, America will have a one-stop shop for tracking our progress in every community, and for learning exactly what has worked and what has not,” the President announced.
The Digital Divide Network is more than just a Website listing digital divide-related programs. It also serves as a focal point for discussions and the dissemination of new ideas on exactly how to close this technology gap, says Andy Carvin, senior associate at the Benton Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., which organized the project in conjunction with the National Urban League in New York and with other foundations and companies.
The Benton Foundation is an organization that seeks to shape the emerging communications environment and to demonstrate the value of communications for solving social problems. The National Urban League is well known for its civil rights initiatives.
“It’s a real opportunity to level the playing field,” says B. Keith Fulton, former director of technology policy and resources at the National Urban League. “It’s an opportunity for those who are behind to catch up.” Fulton recently joined America Online as executive director of corporate relations. AOL is the primary financial backer of the Digital Divide Network.
Carvin, who serves as editor of the Website, says that while it’s always good to see new digital divide efforts get under way, it’s frustrating to watch nonprofit groups waste their limited resources “reinventing the wheel,” instead of making use of the knowledge already gained by similar groups. “They can’t afford to make the same mistakes,” he said.
One of the more useful parts of the Website is the “Find a Digital Divide Effort Near You” section, which features an interactive map of the United States and a directory of local digital divide-related programs and resources. By clicking on their respective states, users can access a list and contact information for technology centers in their areas. A number of nonprofit organizations and private sector companies, such as the NAACP and AT&T, have joined forces to build additional centers in targeted cities to provide computer training and