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3/30/2007
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NYC Falling On Wrong Side Of Digital Divide, Officials Worry

Broadband access hearing discusses ways to improve access and education for the underserved areas of the metropolis.

New York is the most dynamic city in the world, but when it comes to the Internet, lawmakers are concerned the Big Apple is stuck in the dial-up age.

"I want to figure out ways to change that and to use broadband to bring in jobs, help schools, and make the city safer," Council Member Gale Brewer said during New York's first hearing on broadband access Friday.

Brewer joined Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr., Bronx Community College, and the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation in convening the hearing on getting Bronx residents on the "right side of the digital divide." Brewer stressed the importance of affordable broadband, while Carrion stressed the importance of universal and reliable broadband.

New York's political leaders concerns about residents' ability to compete in a global economy aren't unfounded. Rankings released this week by the World Economic Forum put the United States in seventh place worldwide for "networked readiness."

The U.S. ranks 12th in the world for broadband users per capita, and, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 27% of American households don't use the Internet at all. Increased age and lower socio-economic status make it less likely that people will have access to broadband, according to Pew.

The largest U.S. city has fallen behind other cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Houston in terms of government-backed major broadband initiatives. The Bronx typically rates lower than other New York City boroughs on economic indicators.

"Today, one of the greatest catalysts for fostering economic opportunity and opening up new worlds to young and old is access to the Internet," New York Sen. Hillary Clinton said in a statement. "For many people, especially those in underserved communities, the digital divide hasn't been closed. In order for people to realize the benefits of this technology for education, employment, and training, they must have the infrastructure in place. We must help bring the power of technology into people's lives, especially in underserved areas like the Bronx, with the hope that every family can have the tools for success in today's technology-rich economy."

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn praised Brewer and others on the city's Broadband Advisory Committee for their work in trying to bridge the technology gap.

"Here in New York City," Quinn said in a statement, "many underserved communities won't survive in this new information age without the technical knowledge many of us take for granted."

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