A year after President Clinton challenged corporate America to address the issue, only one-third of Americans believe businesses and government are adequately addressing the so-called "digital divide" between the country’s computer-age haves and have-nots.
In a survey commissioned by leading global services firm EDS, conducted by leading online market research firm Harris Interactive, respondents ranked corporate America (35 percent) as slightly more effective in addressing the digital divide than non-profit organizations (33 percent) or the federal government (27 percent). However, respondents without online access say non-profit organizations (28 percent) and the federal government (27 percent) are more effective in addressing the issue than corporate America (25 percent), while those with online access say corporate America (41 percent) is more effective in addressing the issue than non-profit organizations (36 percent) or the federal government (27 percent).
"Those who lack access to the Internet – and the resources necessary to utilize its benefits – are at a growing disadvantage in education, economic advancement and job training," said Tom Mattia, vice president of Global Communications and Community Affairs for Plano, Texas-based EDS. "This survey underscores the need to create additional digital opportunities by increasing the number of Americans using computers and the Internet – it’s an important goal for information technology companies."
On steps companies can take to overcome the digital divide, respondents rated donating time, money and equipment to schools (82 percent); providing scholarships for those interested in pursuing technical degrees (74 percent); providing classroom training for basic Internet and computer software usage (71 percent); participating in job shadowing programs where students spend time at local corporations to learn about specific jobs (66 percent); and participating in computer refurbishment programs (51 percent) as "very important."
Of the two potential basic solutions mentioned most often for companies to address the digital divide, the national survey found 47 percent of respondents believed increasing training for basic computer software usage is more effective in addressing the digital divide than increasing access to computers and the Internet (35 percent). A smaller number of respondents - 11 percent - believe both are equally effective.
The issue of the digital divide ' or the gap between the technology haves and have-nots ' has been studied by a number of public and private organizations, and was the subject of President Clinton’s keynote address to COMDEX Spring attendees in April 2000 in Chicago. Re-named COMDEX Chicago 2001 for this year, the IT industry event kicks off today in Chicago.
According to a report issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce in October 2000, there are more than 116 million Americans online, and more than half of all households in the U.S. own a computer. While this number is impressive, it does suggest that while there are approximately 140 million Americans with computers, there are an equal number without them.
A report by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) in Washington found "greater home usage of the Internet by more highly educated and wealthier individuals - compared with the general U.S. population, Internet users were more likely to be white and well educated." This suggests that while the growth rate of computer and Internet use continues to rise, it does not rise proportionally across all populations and geographies. Complicating factors include lack of broadband access in rural communities, poor wiring in older inner-city residential buildings and lack of computer equipment due to low household income.
"EDS’ commitment to the JASON Project and Chicago’s Time Dollar Institute are a few examples of how EDS is meeting the challenge," Mattia said. "But the survey says that public and private entities need to continue efforts to bring the Internet to all Americans - we all need to work together to do more."
EDS commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct this survey via telephone within the United States between March 22-26, 2001, among a nationwide cross section of 1,011 adults. Figures for age, sex, race, education, number of adults and number of voice/telephone lines in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.
In theory, one can expect that 95% of surveys with samples of this size would produce results that were within plus or minus 3 percentage points of what they would be if the entire adult population had been polled using the same methods. Unfortunately, there are several other possible sources of error in all polls or surveys that are probably more serious than theoretical calculations of sampling error. They include refusals to be interviewed (non-response), question wording and question order, interviewer bias, weighting by demographic control data and screening (e.g., for likely voters). It is difficult or impossible to quantify the errors that may result from these factors.