THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
April 4, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT DIGITAL DIVIDE KICK-OFF
The East Room
3:04 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. First of all, Julian, I thank
you for your introduction, for your remarks and, mostly, for the power
of your example. I find very often when we do these events in the White
House, by the time I get up to talk, everything that needs to be said
has already been said. And I certainly thank you.
I want to thank you, Senator Barbara Mikulski, for being the first
member of Congress to talk to me about the digital divide. And once I
realized you were interested in it, I stopped worrying about whether we
would address it -- (laughter) -- because no one will ever say "no" to
the Senate's spark plug of energy. I want to thank Secretary Herman for
her support. And, Secretary Glickman, thank you for being here. Harris
Wofford, the leader of our national service movement; and Gene Sperling,
my National Economic Advisor, who has pushed this whole digital divide
issue so passionately.
I want to thank the members of Congress who are here. Over to my
left, Senator John Breaux, my neighbor, from the Mississippi Delta,
where we are very interested in the potential of the computer and the
Internet. And we just had a large delegation of House members that have
come in -- they've been voting and I'm glad they're here. I hope I have
all their names, but I'd like to introduce them: Representative Maxine
Waters, Representative Bart Stupak, Representative Ellen Tauscher,
Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, Representative Silvestre Reyes,
Representative John Larson, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson,
Representative Zoe Lofgren, Representative Ruben Hinojosa. Thank you
all for being here. (Applause.) Did I get everybody? Thank you. And
Elijah Cummings, from Maryland -- he's on the front row.
I'd also like to thank Governor Angus King, from Maine, for being
here. He is working to create an endowment fund in Maine to provide
portable computers and Internet access to all 7th graders, so they can
actually be taken home.
There are many other distinguished Americans here who have worked
on this. Bob Johnson, the head of BET, thank you for being here. And I
want to acknowledge the presence of former Governor of West Virginia,
Gaston Caperton, now the head of the College Board. West Virginia,
under his leadership, was the first state to provide computer access to
all elementary school students. So we're glad to have you here, sir.
And I thank you all for being here.
I want to talk about what we're doing now as we set the stage for
the administration's third New Markets tour, which will begin in the
week of April the 16th. But before I begin, I would like to acknowledge
two very important developments yesterday in America's ongoing fight to
protect our children from the dangers of guns falling into the hands of
criminals and children -- one of them in Senator Mikulski's home state
Last night I called Governor Glendenning and Lieutenant Governor
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to congratulate them and the Maryland
Legislature for passing legislation requiring built-in child safety
locks on new handguns, ballistics testing for new guns, and safety
training for gun purchasers. And yesterday, Massachusetts began
enforcing tougher consumer product safety rules, banning junk guns and
requiring trigger locks. Next week, I'm going out to Colorado to
support a citizen ballot initiative there that would close the gun show
These are all great efforts, and I think it's worth pointing out
that they are bipartisan efforts in these states. (Applause.)
Colorado, for example, Republican registration has gone up in the last
six or seven years, and this ballot initiative today is overwhelmingly
in the lead on the ballot. So this should not be a partisan issue in
Washington, D.C. if it is not a partisan issue in the rest of the
And again, I say, I challenge the Congress to send me the
common-sense gun safety legislation by April 20th, the anniversary of
the Columbine tragedy. We have to close the gun show loophole and
require child safety locks and ban the importation of large-scale
ammunition clips that make our assault weapons ban a mockery. It
requires national legislation, as well. So congratulations to Maryland
and Massachusetts, and I thank the people in Colorado, but we still have
to do our job here.
Now, I cannot imagine a better place for us to kick off our next
chapter in the New Markets effort than here in the East Room -- for it
was in this very room nearly two centuries ago that Thomas Jefferson and
his personal aide, Meriwether Lewis, laid maps on this floor to chart
the Lewis & Clark expedition.
Today, we are here again to chart a new expedition, to open new
frontiers of possibilities for America -- the digital frontiers. Our
mission is to open that frontier to all Americans, regardless of income,
education, geography, disability or race. This is a fortunate time for
the United States. We have the strongest economy in our history; the
lowest African American and Hispanic unemployment rates on record; the
lowest female unemployment rate in 40 years.
But we all know there are people and places that have been left
behind. Over the last year I have traveled to many of these places. I
have been to Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, to the inner cities
of Newark and Watts, to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South
Every place I have gone I have seen how we could do more to bring
the benefits of free enterprise and empowerment, with private sector and
community organization cooperation -- for new businesses, new jobs, new
training and education that will make a real difference in people's
I want you to understand that while most people talk about the
digital divide -- and it is real and it could get worse -- I believe
that the computer and the Internet give us a chance to move more people
out of poverty more quickly than at any time in all of human history.
That's what I believe. (Applause.) But it won't happen by accident.
We'll have to work to make it happen.
On this upcoming New Markets tour, we will focus specifically on
how to pool resources to help communities get access to and take best
advantage of the tools of the Information Age. We will visit your
hometown of East Palo Alto, a community where 20 percent of the
residents still live below the poverty line, to show that even in the
heart of Silicon Valley there is still a substantial digital divide --
but that things are being done about it.
We will visit Shiprock, New Mexico, a small town in the Navajo
Nation, to demonstrate the unique challenges faced by geographically
remote Indian reservations. I will speak at the influential Comdex
Conference in Chicago, where I'll talk to representatives of every major
computer and Internet company in America, and ask them to join our
And then the following week I will go to North Carolina, where we
will discuss the importance of connecting rural America to the same
high-speed broad-band networks now proliferating in metropolitan areas.
On all these stops, I will make the case that new technologies can
be an incredible tool of empowerment in schools, homes, businesses,
community centers and every other part of our civic life, arguing that
if we work together to close the digital divide, technology can be the
greatest equalizing force our society or any other has ever known.
Imagine if computers and Internet connections were as common in
every community as telephones are today; if all teachers had the skills
to open students' eyes and minds to the possibilities of new
technologies; if every small business in every rural town could join
worldwide markets once reserved for the most powerful corporations --
just imagine what America could be.
Let me say -- first of all I see Congressman Jefferson and
Congressman Rush and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. There may be
other representatives, but as they come in, I'll try to acknowledge
them. There's a ton of interest in this.
Let me give you an example. You know, I just got back from India,
a country of 900 million people with a per capita income of $450. We
think we have challenges. But I saw what you could do there to close
the digital divide, to use technology in an affirmative way.
I went to a little village in Rajasthan called Nayla -- typical
low-income Indian village. And in the public building, the village's
public building, there is a computer with software where the programs
are in both English and Hindi, and can be adapted to other local
languages, as the case may be. And the first thing I saw was a mother
who had just given birth to a child come in. And they have all the
public information from the federal and state government on this
So she goes -- she brings up the Health Department's page on
newborn babies. And there's so much visual -- there's such a good
visual component to this software that you could be almost illiterate
and still work it. And she identifies the instructions that any new
mother might want to have, and then she pushes a few buttons, and
there's a printer. She prints it out, and she now has information just
as good as she could get if her baby were born at the Georgetown Medical
Center here, and she were going home.
Then I met with this Women's Dairy Cooperative -- keep in mind, in
this little village in India, where every transaction, every time they
brought milk in, it was all entered on the computer, what the fat
content was, what the volume was, what the price was. And every time
the milk was sold, it was entered, so that they got a regular
computerized record of not only what they had put in, but what they got
Then I went to Hyderabad, which is sort of a high-tech center of
India. But in that whole state, you can now get 18 public services on
the computer, on the Internet. Nobody goes to a Revenue Office to buy
their license anymore; you can get a driver's license on the Internet.
Now, Governor, if you do that, you can be governor for life. They'll
repeal the term limits, repeal everything. (Laughter.)
My point is that you can see the potential of this for even the
poorest people in the world is truly explosive. That's why we want
these 1,000 computer centers out there, because we don't want to wait
even for all the schools to do this right. We want adults in rural
areas, in isolated areas, in poor areas, to be able to come in and
access the same sort of services, and use them, and get the same sort of
information and access.
The potential of this is truly staggering. We need not see the
digital divide as a threat. It is the greatest opportunity the United
States of America has ever had to lift people out of poverty and
But I will say again, if you look at the whole history of economic
development, whenever there's a change in the paradigm, there's a divide
that opens, because some people are well-positioned to take advantage of
the new economy. It happened when we moved from being an agricultural
nation to an industrial nation. Some people are well positioned to take
advantage of it, and others aren't. So new divides always open when the
dominant way of making a living in any society changes.
But this empowerment tool gives us a chance not only to close the
divide quickly, but to actually lift poor people in a way that has never
before been possible.
I just got back from Northern California, and I learned that now --
I met with some people from a lot of different computer companies, but
the people from e-Bay told me that there are now 30,000 people-plus,
making a living just trading on e-Bay, not working for the company, and
that many of them used to be on welfare. So it's important that we see
this not only for the problem it presents, but for the phenomenal
opportunity that it presents.
Important that we see it not only as a way to close a gap so people
don't fall further behind, but a way to give people a tool that will
enable them to leap further ahead. But again, I say, it won't happen by
accident. It requires government, business, educators, librarians,
civil rights, religious leaders, labor union leaders -- thank you, Mr.
Barr, for being here today -- community-based organizations,
foundations, volunteers. Everybody has got to work together.
Today, I want to issue a national call for action on digital
opportunity, to help us achieve two vitally important goals. First, to
bring 21st century learning tools to every school. That means we have
to finish the job of connecting every classroom to the Internet,
ensuring that all students have access to multi-media computers,
creating more high quality educational software, helping all teachers
learn how to make the best use of these tools. And this is very
Again, I want to thank the members of Congress here who have
supported our efforts in the aftermath of the Telecommunications Act of
1996, to create the E-rate, which has made it possible for the schools,
no matter how poor they are, to have access to the Internet.
The second goal is to expand efforts far beyond our schools, to
give every citizen Internet access at home, by bringing technology
centers and high-speed networks to every single community; by helping
adults to gain the skills to compete for I.T. jobs; and inspiring more
people to appreciate the great value of getting on line.
Today is the opening of this national call to action. More than
400 organizations already have signed the pledge, and this is just the
beginning. For the rest of the year we will try to inspire hundreds,
indeed, thousands, more to sign up. We will work with Congress, across
party lines, to build support for budget and legislative initiatives to
meet these goals. And you heard Senator Mikulski outline some of them.
We have to be willing at the national level to do our part. This is a
worthy, federal investment.
During the New Markets tour, we'll have an opportunity to announce
many commitments tied to this call to action. Today, I'd just like to
review four of them -- all of them vivid illustrations of the kind of
visionary partnership and barn-raising spirit that we are working to
First, to reprieve something Senator Mikulski mentioned, AmeriCorps
will make an enormous contribution to closing the digital divide by
marshalling the power of active citizen volunteers. Thanks to the
leadership of Senator Mikulski and Harris Wofford, AmeriCorps is
committing $10 million to recruit 750 new members to serve in a
brand-new E-Corps. The E-Corps will be a large battalion of volunteers,
trained and devoted exclusively to projects like providing technical
support to school systems and teaching computer literacy to adults and
The Corporation for National Service will also unleash the power of
students helping students by providing funds to allow 90,000 high school
students to get involved in digital divide projects as part of their
Most young people I know can run circles around me and most people
my age when it comes to computers and the Internet. AmeriCorps is going
to tap their capacity so that they can help others in their communities
to close the digital divide.
Second, to help get AmeriCorps' E-Corps off to a running start,
Yahoo will donate $1 million in Internet advertising to attract
potential E-Corps members with high-tech skills. Third, in partnership
with the YWCA, 3Com is launching an innovative initiative called
"NetPrep GYRLS" -- g-y-r-l-s. Currently less than 30 percent -- listen
to this -- less than 30 percent of our computer scientists and
programmers are women. NetPrep GYRLS will help to right this imbalance
offering free computer network training and certification to hundreds of
high school girls across our country.
Fourth, the American Library Association has pledged to greatly
expand the Information Literacy Programs of its members in at least 250
communities. So this is just the beginning, but I want to thank the
people who were involved for these four initiatives. There will be many
more, but I thank you very much. (Applause.)
I've heard Harris Wofford -- who worked with Martin Luther King,
and who was in Selma with me the other day, and was in Selma 35 years
ago when the first march took place -- say that making sure all young
Americans share in the opportunity and promise of America is the
unfinished business of the civil rights movement.
It is appropriate that we are meeting here on this subject 32 years
to the day after Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. He was
there working to lift the economic fortunes of disadvantaged people. I
think if he were with us today, he would therefore say closing the
digital divide is a righteous cause.
In his last Sunday sermon, he ended with a prayer that said, "God
grant us all a chance to be participants in the newness and magnificent
development of America." That's what this is all about. We need more
people Julian. We need more people like you, not only clapping for
people like Julian, but helping them to live their dreams.
We do that when we help young people; when we help seniors in rural
America get medical advice over the Internet; when we create tools that
allow people with disabilities to open new doors of possibility. We
give our neighbors a chance to participate in this astonishing American
renaissance, we have done something that would have made Dr. King proud.
And the new technology of the digital age gives us a chance to do it for
more people, more quickly, more profoundly, than at any time in human
history. It's up to us to seize that opportunity.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 3:25 P.M. EDT