Posted by Lori Ayre on September 15, 2004

The Kaiser Family Foundation just released a new report entitled "Children, The Digital Divide and Federal Policy."

Among the findings is the fact that public libraries are the third most common place where children go online after home and school. Specifially, Internet access from the library is very important for children who do not have Internet access at home. And who has Internet access at home? Well, 80% of white kids do but only 61% of African American kids do and 67% of Hispanics do.

Other interesting statistics:

? Fifteen percent of all 5- to 17-year-olds have gone online at a library, including one in four (25%) children living in poverty.

? More than one in four (29%) African-American children have gone online from a library, more than any other racial or ethnic group. Hispanic children have the next highest rate (20%), followed by Asians (17%), Whites (12%), and American Indians (11%).

? More than one in four (28%) children with disabilities have gone online from a library, compared to 17% of non-disabled children.

The report goes on to provide a thorough history of the Internet, access, the digital divide and what the federal government has been done about it. They cite three federal programs that were designed to address the digital divide including E-Rate, TOPS and CTC.

E-Rate is credited with increasing the percentage of libraries with Internet access from 26% in 1996 to 95% in 2002. We all know that this program has recently faced problems including funding issues, waste and fraud charges not to mention the controversial filtering requirement.

TOPS, Technology Opportunities Program, is a program which provides
seed money for innovative uses of advanced technology
in the public and nonprofit sectors. It was funded in 2001 for $42.5 million. Bush cut funding to $15 million in 2002 and has been trying to eliminate the program ever since. In 2003, Congress funded it for $15.5 despite Bush's attempt to kill it.

CTC, Community Technology Centers, is a program that provides technology access and training for economically disadvantaged communities. In 2002, Bush tried to eliminate the program in favor of the infamous No Child Left Behind program but Congress funded it for $32.5 million anyway (a 50% reduction from 2000). Congress funded it a meager $10 million in 2003 (over Bush objections)...another $30 million reduction from the previous year.

The report goes on to suggest ways to increase access to computers and the Internet for all children including to expand home access by including Internet access in the Universal Service Fund that now provides phone service to low-income household and to attach Internet access requirements to low-income housing projects (see Kerry Hatch bill, S.305).

They recommend expanding public access in public settings by extending E-Rate eligibility, expanding E-Rate to cover more than just the connection, make school computers available after hours, use money collected from the sale of public airwaves to invest in access and content (see Digital Dividends Act, HR 1396) and to set aside wireless frequencies for hot spots that serve low-income communities.

Like most Kaiser Family Foundation reports, it is excellent. I've just touched upon some highlights. Take a peek.