Thursday, September 29, 2005

Civil Rights Groups Urge Us Congress To Close 'Digital Divide'

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights hosted a discussion and released new research on the digital divide Tuesday September 27th.

UC Santa Cruz Professor Robert Fairlie conducted the study that found that Blacks and Latinos are much less likely than white, non-Latinos to have access to home computers (50.6% and 48.7% compared to 74.6%) and they're also less likely to have Internet access at home (40.5% and 38.1% compared to 67.3%). Spanish-speaking Latinos, especially Mexicans, have strikingly low rates of computer ownership and home Internet use.

"There are some fairly significant policy implications as a result of this study," said Wade Henderson, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the importance of a solid communications infrastructure, Henderson said, and Congress needs to be mindful of those groups that don't have access to high-tech services as rebuilding efforts get started. "In the aftermath of this tragedy, it's no longer possible for the haves to ignore the have-nots," he said. The Leadership Conference will advocate for those "have-nots" as Congress takes up the DTV and telecom bills. "This debate will be about who gets to speak and for what price."

To solve the digital divide, Henderson urged Congress to fully fund the E-Rate program and expand it to cover advanced telecom services. He suggested that providers such as cable and VoIP become more equal players in contributing to the fund. "Disparate regulation distorts the market and undermines the longstanding commitment to universal service."

His other recommendations: 1) Commit Universal Service Funds (USF) to community technology centers that provide job training opportunities; 2) Encourage local governments to address community technology needs when negotiating franchises with local video service companies; 3) Direct the FCC to develop a national deployment play for advance telecom service to Universal Service-eligible customers nationwide; 4) Acknowledge tribal regulatory authority to remove barriers to deploying telecom infrastructure and services; and 5) Preserve USF and reform the program to address the needs of people with disabilities in an IP-enabled environment.
[SOURCE: Communications Daily, AUTHOR: Anne Veigle]
(Not available online)

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