Where Are You On the Information Superhighway?

Kathleen Holzhueter

4 August 2000



This paper discusses some of the factors effecting two of the goals presented in Clinton's 1997 State of the Union Address - universal access, and that every adult American be able to keep on learning for a lifetime. It explores some of the federal, state, local, private, and individual interventions being implemented to help achieve these goals in this everchanging society of emerging technologies.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What is Computer/Internet Literacy?
  3. What is the American Government's Involvement?
  4. What Else is Being Done?
  5. Conclusion
  6. References
  7. Home Page




In President Clinton's 1997 State of the Union Address, two of the goals he conveyed were that every 12-year-old must be able to log on to the Internet, and that every adult American must be able to keep on learning for a lifetime. Some principles he addressed were to expand the frontiers of learning across a lifetime, and that all of our people, of whatever age, must have a chance to learn new skills. In 1996 he challenged America to connect every classroom and library by the year 2000 so that every person would have the same access to the same universe of knowledge. The goal over the next decade was to have a computer in every home because it would be a necessity.

It's 2000. Where are we on the Information Superhighway?

Over the next ten years, predictions are that basically every job in America will require some use of technology. Universal access is only a beginning. Learning, computer/internet literacy skills are key. 'All people' does not just refer to K-12 and college, but also people with disabilities and English language barriers. Many American adults cannot read, write, or reason well enough with the basics, let alone begin to become functionally literate with computers and emerging technologies.

The National Institute For Literacy (NIFL) indicates that at least 40 million American adults need stronger literacy skills to take advantage of more lifelong learning opportunities.The traditional view of literacy needs to be expanded from the fundamental 3 R's to include technology.


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What is Computer/Internet Literacy?

Over the years the literacy definition has been constantly expanding from the 3 R's (Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic) to include cultural (art, music), media (communication), and now technology (computer and internet literacy, emerging technologies).

According to Wolfe (1992), "those considered to be computer literate should demonstrate familiarity with system concepts such as: hardware/software selection and implementation for small, medium and large configurations; telecommunications and networking; multi-user systems; storage and memory; batch and on-line processing; sequential, direct, and indexed sequential processing; and how operating systems serve and support users. Since information management systems, decision support systems, and expert systems software shells are availible for implementation by innovative users, students must become familiar with the theoretical basis underlying these support systems." She goes on to say that "...students should follow the programming process to solve at least one problem so that the tasks of systems analysts and programmers are appreciated and understood."

This is obviously more than just universal access and logging on. It is not just learning computer lingo, web definitions, and buzz words like internet, intranet,and extranet. It's about becoming computer proficient.

Lifelong learning in the 21st Century's Information Age will require an ongoing literacy competency in recognizing the need for information; knowing how to access it; understanding how to evaluate it; knowing how to synthesize it; being able to communicate it; demonstrating critical thinking , problem-solving, and decision-making abilities.


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What is the American Government's Involvement?

According to Carl (1996), "...government efforts toward universal service include the Telecommunications Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP)..." which provides matching funds for schools, libraries, and other non-profit groups that raise money from private sources to access the Internet.

Those who have requested subsidized access are finding hold-ups with the funding, anxieties with processing applications and denials. Not enough funding is availabe or has been allocated. Trained staff and turnover is a problem.

Universal access, literacy, and funding needs to keep up with the pace of rapidly changing technology as well as anticipate upgrading with emerging technologies, such as changing from analog to digital within this decade. School districts need to look at technology as an investment that involves not just a one-time, up-front cost for access and equipment, because it also involves updating expenses to keep up with changing technology and providing for trained teachers.

Some government agencies are spending money on research such as the Federal communications Commission (FCC). The FCC must periodically review what communications services should be covered by universal service policies. Other agencies have been developed to provide funding assistance such as the Universal service Fund which the Senate must act on before authorizing $6.9 billion for Information Technology Research, earmarking some for the National Science Foundation for Colleges and Universities. The Department of Education offers Electronic Grant Applictions and has worked with Windows 95 researchers to make sure it had a few accessibility features for persons with disabilities.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 strengthened access affordability with Link-Up America (reduces initial connection charges) and Lifeline (reduces monthly charges). Effective January 1998, consumers in all states were eligible for these assistance programs. It also established a Telecommunications Fund (TDF) to make loans to small businesses to promote competition in telecommunications and to stimulate new technology development.

The National Eductional Technology Funding Corporation is an organization that can help states leverage funds for educational technology. It can help states to finance improvements in school infrastructure so that school buildings can support technology.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created the Neighborhood Networks Initiative to provide training and access for residents of HUD-financed properties which support development of community Technology Centers (CTC) in public housing.

President Clinton's 1997 Technology access/literacy challenge continues. Vice President Al Gore added a few more challenges in 1998. Gore wants to ensure that workers will have the skills they need to be successful in the 21st Century workplace. Vice President Gore was quoted by Kirchner (1998) as claiming credit for coining the term 'the information superhighway' 17 years ago. His enthusiasm about technology was indicated at an International Telecommunication Union meeting where he posed his 'five great challenges' when he delivered a speech called a "Digital Declaration of Interdependence." The 'five great challenges' were:

  1. Improve access to technology so that everyone on the planet is within walking distance of voice and data communications services within the next decade.
  2. Develop a 'universal translator' for voice and data that lets anyone on the planet talk to anyone else.
  3. Create a 'global knowledge network' of people working to improve delivery of education, health care, and agricultural resources, and to ensure public safety.
  4. Use communications technology to ensure the free flow of ideas and support democracy and free speech.
  5. Extend e-commerce opportunities and capabilities to every family and community in the world.

It's obvious that even government leaders, giving challenges within a relatively short time interval of each other, are at very different levels in their understanding and expectations of the present and future of the ever-changing world of emerging technologies in regard to computer/internet access and literacy.

In Carl's article (1996), it states that "...the government...has a full commitment to the broad principles of universal access." It appears the American Government continues to challenge, research, and fund at the federal level to provide for access and literacy to meet their projections, but it is not enough help to get all Americans accessed, trained, and updated.


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What Else is Being Done?

Miller (2000) indicates that Clinton called "...for public/private Partnerships based on investment incentives to help bridge the technology gap."

Local, state, private industry, and business communities are developing creative programs and solutions for funding universal access, training, and reaching all adults and students inclusive of those with additional challenges of language barriers and disabilities. The country first and foremost needs trained teachers to become computer literate in order to achieve computer/internet literacy among students and all other individuals.

Taxes, grants, matching grants, scholarships, redevelopment grants, revitalization projects are just a few ways of helping to enable advanced information infrastructures. State legislatures are raising funds. Corporate and individual donations are increasing.

Public interest activists and technology activists are teaming up to form public-private educational technology partnerships. I would think those companies have a vested interest - the quicker users are on-line, the sooner they become consumers and can more readily purchase the private sector's products and services.

Nash (2000) highlighted an increase in hi-tech corporate donations to schools and universities giving mention to Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, and Premio Computer. These companies will provide donations and discounts for software, hardware, and program support for the project called Intel Teach to the Future. "Intel will invest $100 million over the next three years in education, including training of over 400,000 teachers in 20 countries. Microsoft will donate $344 million in software and program support. Hewlett-Packard and Premio plan to give donations and discounts on hardware worth almost half a billion dollars...a core group of a dozen trainers will travel the U.S. to train 2,500 'master teachers'. These teachers will then train a minimum of 60 classroom teachers each during the three-year program." Alta Vista, eBay Foundation, E-Loan and others have recently given more than $75 million in cash and stock gifts to the Community Foundation Silicon Valley (CFSV) which earmarks some money for grants to non-profit organizations and schools. Last year, Bill Gates and his wife pledged $1 billion in college scholarships to minority students over a 20-year period.

USA Video Interactive & Connaissance Media, Inc. have established a partnership to bring internet access to one billion K-12 students.

Emerging technologies are developing speech recognition programs. AOL will be making it's software compatible with programs the blind will use to convert digital informatoon to speech or Braille.

National Wiring Day (Net Day 2000) for Internet hook-up in the schools is set for Saturday, October 28, 2000.

Computer links are established in spanish and French as well as other languages at some sites.

Community-based organizations and colleges can offer a wide range of services to community residents that can be enhanced by technology application such as pre-school and after-school programs, job training, adult education, senior centers.

Community Technology Center's Network (CTCNet) now has more than 250 computer access centers throughout the United States and Europe. Many of these have creatively gone in to low-income areas and are reviving slum areas and nearby family shelters, and even involving the homeless, mainly providing free access and a minimal fee for printing. Women and family centers are also being created to provide access and training for women and minority-owned small businesses.

Advocates are pushing cable and telephone utilities to connect lagging rural and poor areas, not just connect affluent areas.

In more local arenas, workshops are offered. Students and parents can sign up for classes together at 'Parent Universities'. About half the population has heard about the computer by word of mouth, friends, and neighbors. Neighborhood co-ops are being formed to put together databases on adult education programs and topics of their interests. As students advance through computer classes, they can take on responsibilities in community-driven programs as study partners and mentors for the adult population.

Television shows are emerging and reaching audiences with computer demonstrations, new products, questions and answers, and a lot of jargon that might unfortunately be too overwhelming for beginners.

WebTV may be a great alternative. As the nation gets wired for the switch from analog to digital (many predict this will happen by 2010), current TV's will become useless. There will probably be adaptive devices to make your current TV compatible, but that also costs more money and involves more technology know-how. Most people have TV's and willl probably have to replace them. If they do, it would certainly be the optimal time to get the keyboard and printer accessories with it, establish access, and get educated on the World Wide Web (WWW).


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It is obvious that the Hi-Technology industry is increasingly helping to bridge the access and literacy gaps, but an underlying concern still remains with universal access and literacy training. It appears there is a continued correlation to demographic area and income, and a lack of infrastructure available to promote access and literacy. Miller (2000) argues that this "...digital divide is just a manifestation of the same old economic divisions." It seems that almost everywhere there is a definite contrast scenario between affluent and poor communities and that the poorer communities are much further behind in many areas including entering the Information Age. The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) describes this situation as the 'concentration of poverty and deconcentration of opportunity'.

The digital divide is taking it's toll on individuals, communities, and society and those without equal access will be at a disadvantage to fully participate in the nation's economic, social, civil, and government arenas in a global economy. Gaps between wages for skilled and unskilled workers will continue to widen even further as more jobs require computer/internet literacy. An information underclass is a strong possibility. Society will suffer if some individuals and communities are digitally disconnected.

When all people have access and can learn to access, interpret, and respond to information on the Information Superhighway, technology can then even the odds. All people will be able to explore the world outside their boundaries - shop, go to museums, visit other cities, travel to other countries on-line without leaving their neighborhood. Emerging technology should bring Americans closer together, not push them further apart.

There is another access and literacy obstacle to hurdle. Many people have a fear of change and new technology and may not have a willingness to try or learn. People need to be exposed to technologies and be educated about the ramifications for the future, their future. It is more than knowing about e-mail. It is their future means of accessing information, communicating, exchanging ideas, and participating in society as a whole.

People need to see the power in their involvement with the computer and be convinced of it's usefulness for the future. The Computer Learning Foundation has identified six key areas that they felt all children should be exposed to and I feel these would be a good beginning for adults as well: tools for learning, creativity, productivity, research, communications, and entertainment. At least one of these areas may entice those hesitant idividuals to venture out and take that first step to even look at a computer or a more portable wireless or handheld device that can be brought to them to view.

Another interesting thought by Joy (2000) is that "...our most powerful 21st Century technologies - robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech - are threatening to make humans an endangered species." Maybe we won't even need to worry about access, literacy, or funding as this vision of near immortality goes forward. I do believe however, that people with positive knowledge, would still have to take action to enable these technologies. There is also always the need for creators, researchers, programmers, and support people.

As TV, telephone, cable, and computer industries continue to converge, universal access, lifelong learning of computer skills and emerging technology, and funding continue to be essential for the 21st Century. It seems that even the long-term goals and planning by the government will become outdated. They must continually reassess and redevelop them. The amazing growth of emerging technologies and predicted use of computers in the job arena make it imperitive to have access and training for all people. This will continue to be a massive challenge to obtain and maintain.

Ultimately, individuals must take the initiative to venture out onto the Information Superhighway with it's increasing availability of resources and opportunities. As the federal, state, local, public and private sectors, and individuals continue to expand the reach of technology in the 21st Century, it will hopefully open opportunity to ensure everyone access to the digitial future.


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Carl, Jeremy. (1996). Universal Access to Internet: Who Pays? Web Week.[Online}, 2 (6), 12 paragraphs. Available: http://www.internetworld.com/print/1996/05/20/industry/universal.html [20 May 1996].

Joy, Bill. (2000). Why the future doesn't need us. Wired. [Online], 8 (4), 149 paragraphs. Available: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html [April 2000].

Kirchner, Jake. (1998). Al Gore's High-Tech Hopes. PC Magazine. [Online], 12 paragraphs. Available: http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/insites/kirchner/jk981112.htm [1 December 1998].

Lemonick, Michael D. (2000). Will Tiny Robots Build diamonds One Atom at a Time? Time. 14 (June 19, 2000), 94-95.

Miller, Michael J. (2000). Forward Thinking. PC Magazine. [Online}, 21 paragraphs. Available: http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/stories/opinions/0,7802,2566930,00.html [22 May 2000].

Nash, Sharon. (2000). Hi-Tech Keeps on Giving. PC Magazine. [Online}, 7 paragraphs. Available: http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/stories/trends/0,7607,2429381,00.html [28 January 2000].

Wolfe, Helen W. (1992). Computer Literacy for the 1990's. Journal of Information Systems Education. [Online], 4 (1), 26 paragraphs. Available: http://gise.org/JISE/Vol1-5/COMPUTE1.htm [March 1992].


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For additional information, the following resources are also available on-line:

Articles and Archives about Technology and Children http://www.computerlearning.org/articles/Articles.htm

Community Technology in Burlington, VT http://www.techlearning.com/db_area/archives/WCE/archives/luhrs.htm

Digital Television and Public Television http://www.current.org/dtv

Information Technology and Disabilities http://www.rit.edu/~easi/itd.html

Maintaining Standards in the Distance Education Course http://www.syllabus.com/news/ntr_latest_news.cfm

Motor Impairments Computer Literacy Camp: Application http://www.rehab.uiuc.edu/camp/2000/mi-application.html

NetDay 2000 http://www.netday.org

NIFL Mission Statement http://novel.nifl.gov/nifl

President Clinton's 1997 State of the Union Address http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/SOU97/index.html

Speech http://www.apple.com/macos/speech

Telecommunication Act of 1996 http://www.fcc.gov/telecom.html

The Role Technology Can Play in Preparing Our Children for the 21st Century http://www.computerlearning.org/articles/Prepare.htm

Ther Universal Service Fund http://www.merit.edu/k12.michigan/usf

Volunteers of America in Ohio http://www.techlearning.com/db_area/archives/WCE/archives/houchard.htm

Wireless Products http://www.wirelessdesignmag.com


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