Services & Software

Clinton wants $50 million to close digital divide

In an effort to bridge the widening gap between technology haves and have-nots, the Clinton administration is proposing a $50 million plan that would link low-income families to the Internet.

In an effort to bridge the widening "digital divide," the Clinton administration is proposing a $50 million plan that would link low-income families to the Internet.

The proposal, which will be announced this afternoon in San Francisco, is slated to help some 9 million households currently on the U.S. food stamps program.

Already, 25 such families in Oakland, Calif., have had computers and Internet access set up in their homes under the new program, called ClickStart.

Separately, Clinton today announced a similar plan that would connect schools to the Net. That plan calls for $2 billion in tax incentives over 10 years to encourage the private sector to donate computers, train workers and sponsor technology centers.

The president has repeatedly emphasized closing the gap between the technology haves and have-nots. Just last week he touched on the issue in his State of the Union address, saying that "connecting classrooms and libraries to the Internet is crucial, but it's just a start."

Although more Americans are jumping online and becoming tech-savvy, a study by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration shows that use of the Internet is directly related to income.

The study found that only 12 percent of the people earning less than $10,000 a year use the Internet, compared with an estimated 59 percent of those who earn $75,000 or more.

Under the ClickStart program, launched in Oakland on Jan. 21, a group of Silicon Valley tech executives have provided computers and Net access to the Marcus A. Foster Educational Institute, a community outreach program that will distribute the systems to Oakland families.

ClickStart hopes to serve up to 600 families in Oakland. The program will then branch out to other cities, organizers said today.

Each family rents the hardware and software for about three years at a cost of $5 to $10 per month, said Wade Randlett, vice president of Red Gorilla, a San Francisco Internet start-up.

Randlett and others involved in the program have started their own nonprofit group to kick-start the program, as the federal subsidies will not be available until October.

Other programs intended to make the Net more accessible to children and low-income people have focused on wiring schools and public libraries.

"This is the last mile in bridging the digital divide," Randlett said in an interview today. "This truly ensures full Internet access for the kid that would normally not have a chance to get it otherwise."

Other Silicon Valley members of the programs include: Charles Katz, chief executive of San Francisco's; venture capitalist Garrett Gruener of Alta Partners; Eric Schmidt, chief executive of software developer Novell; Nick Grouf, chief executive of PeoplePC; and Steve Westly of eBay.