AT&T Answers Call to Help Minorities Close Internet Gap

The nation’s largest telecommunications company is opening its wallet to help minorities get on the Internet and get around once they are there.

AT&T said this week it will give $510,000 in grants to minority groups to build Internet-based “tech centers” in cities. AT&T had already pledged more than $700,000 to southern California communities for general technology education.

The announcement comes on the heels of a study released by the U.S. Department of Commerce finding the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” in the computer world is growing. As reported, upper class households, with annual incomes of $75,000 (US$) or more, are 20 times more likely to have Internet access and nine times more likely to have computers than families in the lowest income bracket. In addition, whites are more likely to have Internet access at home than blacks or hispanics are from home, work, school or elsewhere, that report states.

While the federal government expressed grave concern about the disparity, minority organizations have not yet commented publicly.

Where the money goes

AT&T is giving the money to the National Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for use in seven cities with high minority populations: Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Miami, New York, Philadelphia and Washington. “Without a chance to learn more about the Internet, many inner-city residents could fall behind in the march toward on-line education and electronic commerce. These neighborhood tech centers — and a willingness to learn — can help low-income people advance,” AT&T Chairman Michael Armstrong said.

The NAACP will get $300,000 and the National Urban League $210,000 to run education and vocational programs from their branches. The NAACP plans to spend the money on computers, software and online training for children, parents and guardians to get comfortable with the Internet. The centers will serve the dual purpose of both providing Internet education and providing a place for students to go after school each day to continue learning. The NAACP said the centers will only be open after school hours.

The National Urban League plans to provide Internet and computer training to improve the employability of urban residents, particularly those in Altanta, Houston and Washington.

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