Bush Budget Proposes Cutting Digital Access Programs

Bush Budget Proposes Cutting Digital Access Programs

WASHINGTON
The federal budget proposal for 2003 unveiled in early February by the Bush administration would eliminate funding for the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) and for the community technology centers program, two initiatives that have helped low-income, rural and other disadvantaged groups gain access to digital technology. The prospect of eliminating the programs, respectively administered by the U.S. Commerce and Education departments, has provoked an outcry among activists and advocates who support efforts to bridge the digital divide.
TOP, administered by the Commerce Department, is a federal grant program that distributes funds to aid communities lagging in access to digital technologies. Under the Clinton administration 2001 budget, TOP disbursed $42 million in grants to 74 different nonprofit organizations, including historically Black colleges and universities. In 2002, TOP funding fell to $12 million.
 “With the expansion of the Internet and related technologies into all sectors of society, federal subsidies are not justified to prove the usefulness of such technologies,” the White House said in its proposed budget.
Started in 1994, TOP has given out grants averaging around $500,000, which must be matched by local or private sector funds.
Like TOP, the Education Department’s Community Technology Centers (CTC) program is slated for elimination in the Bush budget proposal. The CTC program, which enabled local governments to establish technology centers in neighborhoods, is spending $32.5 million in the current fiscal year.
“We’re very disturbed that these investments will potentially be axed,” Norris Dickard, a senior associate at the nonprofit Benton Foundation in Washington told The Washington Post.
 Coinciding with the Bush budget proposal unveiling, the Commerce Department released a report citing dramatic gains in Internet use among minorities, low-income households and people living in rural areas — the groups typically targeted by the digital access programs because they have lagged behind the national average for computer use and Internet access in past years.
The study reported that Internet usage is annually increasing by 30 percent  among Blacks, 26 percent for Hispanics, 24 percent for all rural households, 25 percent for households with an annual income below $15,000, and 29 percent among single mothers with kids at home.
Critics of the Bush proposal to eliminate the TOP and CTC digital access programs say the Commerce Department report is being used to paint an overly optimistic picture of digital technology use by disadvantaged groups.
 The report does not mention the term, “digital divide,” and its tone is said to differ considerably from the previous four editions of the report, published during the Clinton administration. The Clinton reports were titled, “Falling Through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion.” The Bush version is called, “A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet.”
The report can be viewed at <www.esa.doc.gov/508/esa/nationonline.htm>. 



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