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Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Americans: The Digital Divide's New Frontier:


This report, published in Spring 2000, was one of the first studies to examine content issues and the digital divide. Much of the public concern about the digital divide has been focused on the gap between those who have the "boxes" and "wires" they need for Internet access and those who do not. However, a new dimension of the digital divide is beginning to take shape, one with a profound impact on young people and those who guide and teach them: content. For Americans at risk of being left behind, the characteristics of relevant content include: (1) needed employment, education, and other information; (2) reading levels that can be clearly understood by limited-literacy users; (3) multiple languages; and (4) ways for the underserved to create content and interact with it so that it is culturally appropriate.The lack of relevant online content for lower-income, underserved Americans shuts them out of opportunity in several important ways. First, the Internet is increasingly a tool for transacting life's "business," whether finding a job or internship, getting savings on items purchased, or receiving government benefits. If online information is not available in forms that can be easily found and used by underserved Americans, this group -- one that has historically had difficulty getting information and finding opportunities -- will be further disadvantaged. Second, the Internet is transforming the two traditional paths for self-improvement for young people in this country: getting a good education and learning marketable job skills. People who cannot access or benefit from the Internet are falling further behind.Third, the Internet is starting to offer promising solutions to persistent challenges for groups that do have access to these technology tools. Technology, for example, is providing new opportunities for disabled Americans and people living in remote rural areas. In the same way, information technology holds the potential -- largely untapped-- to give underserved Americans powerful new tools to earn a living, build their communities, and engage as citizens in unprecedented ways.Because content is such a crucial Internet issue for underserved Americans, The Children's Partnership set out to map this uncharted terrain while the evolution of the Internet can still be influenced. This Audit, the result of nine months of research, provides an analysis of the "state of the art" along with recommendations for policymakers, corporate leaders, technology center staff, philanthropists, and those who work with and on behalf of underserved Americans.

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