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8/9/2005
11:27 AM
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Add Fast Net Access To The American Dream

Most Americans, even those with little wealth, can't live these days without a car, a microwave, and cable TV. Add to that fast Internet access.

Most Americans, even those with little wealth, can't live these days without a car, a microwave, and cable TV. Add to that fast Internet access.Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin is leading a five-year project to invest $1 billion to build rental homes with high-speed Internet access for some 100,000 people with low incomes. "You're not fully a member of our economy and our society without Internet access," Rubin said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal (registration required).

Rubin heads Local Initiatives Support Corp., a nonprofit group that furnishes money and other resources to community groups. Its latest project, Access@Home, is aimed at helping low-income Americans cross the digital divide by providing affordable housing with broadband, vouchers to buy computers, online training and community Web sites.

How big is the digital divide? Americans earning less than $30,000 a year comprise only 18% of Internet users, despite comprising 28% of the population, Local Initiatives Support says. Especially hard hit: low-income youth; they're eight times less likely to use computers at home as children in families earning $75,000 or more.

Quoting government stats, the group says 95% of new jobs created will require significant computer skills. And eight of the 10 fastest-growing jobs are computer related. Unfamiliarity with technology can bar people from the doors of their would-be workplaces: Of the 92% of Fortune 500 companies that used corporate Web sites for active job recruitment in 2003, one-third didn't give job seekers the option of applying for jobs offline.

Little wonder why broadband Internet access has become the new American dream.

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