Winter-Spring 2002

New Technology Policy and Advocacy Resource from The Children's Partnership
by Wendy Lazarus and James Lau

With federal leadership related to communities and technology uncertain at best, opportunities to define this emerging arena are planted squarely with city and states. In response to this reality The Children's Partnership has developed a new online resource for leaders involved at the city or state level in addressing the Digital Divide.

"Bridging the Technology Gap: Action Ideas for Cities & States" is the newest addition to our Young Americans & the Digital Future Campaign, a sustained effort to promote city and state policies that increase young Americans' access to the benefits of the Internet and other information technologies. This multi-year education effort is carried out in conjunction with our partners: Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, National Urban League, Center for Policy Alternatives, and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.<

This new action guide is based on seven months of research on activities underway across the country to address the technology gap, from May to November 2001. Based on dozens of interviews with informants in the public and private sectors, along with a review of available analyses and other web resources, we:

· Summarize cities' and states' progress in addressing the technology gap;

· Analyze a number of city and state efforts now underway; and

· Suggest practical action steps that can be taken, now, at the state or local level.

The examples we feature and recommendations we make are specifically designed to be realistic and achievable in these tight fiscal times.

An Overview of What We Found

  1. Many city and state leaders are beginning to understand that there is a technology gap affecting low-income communities and are ready to take a leadership role.
  2. A wide variety of goals are prompting city and state leaders to promote Digital Divide initiatives, including: workforce development, e-government, e-commerce, building city or state infrastructures, reducing crime or gang activity, transitioning from welfare to work, increasing school achievement, youth development, and civic participation.
  3. Similarly, a wide variety of program and funding approaches are being used. The guide reviews in some depth the Digital Divide initiatives in Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Washington as well as municipal efforts in Atlanta, Durham, and Seattle.
  4. Much of the activity now underway focuses on technology policy and practice in schools, often leaving out the all-important developments affecting technology access and use in local communities.
  5. While there are some very promising examples of state and community leaders who are beginning to develop policy responses, relatively little systematic information exists across cities and states about what is being done and what works.
  6. Leaders who are active on the issue report feeling isolated, a situation which is particularly worrisome to them because most lack expertise in this uncharted and highly technical area.

Recommendations for Action

The enterprise and creativity exercised by leaders in a host of places suggests a number of practical steps that other cities and states can take to begin to bridge the technology gap.

These ideas take into account the budgetary shortfalls cities and states now face due to the slowing of the economy, terrorism risks, and energy shortages.

  1. Tap into existing funding streams that may not be specifically earmarked for technology initiatives. For example, the federal Workforce Investment Act, which directs approximately $3.3 billion to states to prepare youth, adults, and other displaced workers for jobs, is being used in California to support community-based technology centers to train at-risk youth in multimedia job skills.
  2. Redeploy personnel previously used for other purposes, located where they can help address the Digital Divide. Washington State uses its land grant university to organize a program deploying resources from its 4-H youth development program toward its Digital Divide efforts.
  3. Harness existing facilities (and related staff) that cities and counties can deploy toward technology. The city of Durham, NC, uses existing parks and recreation centers to teach computer skills.
  4. Tie activities into city or state initiatives to strengthen and build city and state infrastructures. In California, for example, Governor Davis' Infrastructure Commission on Building for the 21st Century is developing recommendations for a host of infrastructure systems including water, facilities, and technology.
  5. Develop incentives to build high-speed, broadband access in rural and underserved areas through state tax policies. Montana has demonstrated the effectiveness of tax credits for telecommunications providers to build broadband in underserved communities.
  6. Influence cable franchise terms between local cable companies and city councils. Atlanta has succeeded in obtaining funds and other kinds of resources to expand access points where residents can use community technology and to support needed training and support.
  7. Partner with companies or foundations. North Carolina received in-kind resources like computers or software that are costly to buy.
  8. Use legal settlements and targeted tax assessments to generate substantial resources. Texas receives money to build infrastructure by an assessment on telecommunications companies. Illinois recently established a $30 million Digital Divide initiative, funded partly through a settlement with telecommunications companies. Similarly, Ohio, through a series of settlements with Ameritech, has received over $3 million to establish community technology centers in low-income neighborhoods.
  9. Urge state public utility commissions to expand telecommunications access in underserved communities. A handful of states have begun to redefine universal service (and the subsidies for it) to extend beyond telephone service.

Examples in "Action Ideas for Cities and States" are organized into different categories to help you find information most relevant to your interests. Whether you want "Examples that Start Small," "Examples that Focus on Rural Needs," or "Cities and States that Involved Community Organizations," you will find leads and practical ideas. We hope this new resource helps spur positive actions to address the Digital Divide in many local communities and states in 2002--and beyond.

Wendy Lazarus is CoFounder and CoDirector of The Children's Partnership; James Lau is TCP's Technology Program Manager. To share a lead or good example for "Action Ideas," contact

Post a comment

Remember personal info?

* Denotes required field.