THE WHITE HOUSE|
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
April 18, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO COMDEX/SPRING 2000
Arie Crown Theater
McCormick Place Convention Center
2:10 P.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you, Frederic Rosen,
and thank you, Jason Chudnofsky. I am delighted to be here. I want to
thank Director Tony Streit and the young people from Street-Level Youth
Media who went on my tour with me over in the other part of the
McCormick Center, to see some of the new wonders of the information
technology revolution. I want to thank those who have come with me here
today, on this last stop of this part of our New Markets tour, including
several members of the United States Congress -- Jan Schakowsky of
Chicago; Stephanie Tubbs-Jones from Cleveland; Silvestre Reyes from El
Paso, Texas; and Representative Bill Jefferson from New Orleans.
I want to thank Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, Federal
Communications Chair Bill Kennard, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Bob Johnson,
the President of Black Entertainment Television; and Gene Sperling and
Maria Echaveste who operate this program for me out of the White House.
I am glad to be the first President to address this conference, but
I am quite sure I will not be the last. Information technology has
accounted for about 30 percent of this remarkable economic growth we've
had, even though people directly working in IT only account for about 8
percent of our employment.
What we have tried to do in government is to provide the conditions
and give people the tools to make the most of this phenomenal new era in
human affairs. What you and people like you all across this country
have done, have made the most of that -- the balanced budget, the
Telecommunications Act, doubling our investment in education and
training, and dramatically increasing basic research, opening trade to
new countries. And it's given us the longest economic expansion in
history -- the lowest African American and Hispanic unemployment rates
ever recorded; the lowest female unemployment rate recorded in 40 years.
Poverty down to a 20-year low; the lowest welfare rolls in 30 years; the
lowest overall unemployment in 30 years.
That is the good news. And it was brought about primarily by this
incredible environment and the gifted people who have made the most of
this celebration of ideas and innovation and ingenuity. But as Mr.
Rosen said when he introduced me, what I have been focused on now in the
last year-plus of my term as President is the people and places who have
been left behind in this phenomenal new economy.
And I have for two reasons. One is, I think that all of us would
like to see every American who is willing to work for it have a chance
to be a part of this astonishing new era of enterprise. I think, just
on pure ethical grounds, we all sense that the American values require
that everybody be given a fair chance to participate. But secondly, I
think it is in our economic interest to do it.
You know, we spend a lot of time in Washington discussing how in
the world can we keep this economic expansion going? It's already the
longest economic expansion in history, far longer than any other one
that did not include a major war. How long can it go? What will
happen? How will it come to an end? Will we really have inflation that
will somehow bring an end to this long boom?
Well, it's clear to me that if we want it to continue, we have to
do more to find new markets. New markets mean creating new businesses
and new employees, as well as new customers. And if you do both, it
means you can have growth without inflation. So this idea of closing
the digital divide is good social policy. It's good personal ethics.
But it's also very, very important for our continued economic expansion
as a nation.
So I came here today to ask you to set another trend -- to devote
more time and technology, more ideas and energy, to closing the digital
divide, the growing gap between those who have the tools and skills and
motivation to succeed in the economy which you come here to explore and
celebrate and push the frontiers of, and those who do not have those at
Now, over the past year I have been to a lot of these places. I
have been to the hills and hollows of Appalachia; to the heart of the
Mississippi Delta. I've been to Englewood here in inner-city Chicago,
and to East Los Angeles. I've been to the Pine Ridge Reservation in
South Dakota, the home of the Oglala Sioux. I have tried everywhere to
shine the spotlight on the potential, not the problems, of these places.
Yesterday, we began our third New Markets tour in East Palo Alto,
California, right in the heart of Silicon Valley, because I wanted the
American people to know that, even there, there are a lot of our fellow
citizens who are not yet fully participating in the information age.
Yesterday, we also went to Shiprock, Navajo Country, in the far
north of New Mexico, and saw the vast differences, the literal vast
distances, literal distances in this case, that have to be overcome to
build an information infrastructure that all of America is a part of.
We visited a community living in the place where their forebears have
been for more than a thousand years. We celebrated the Navajo
Code-Talkers, who were very instrumental in America winning World War II
with our allies in the Pacific because they developed a unique means of
communication. They transferred messages back and forth in Navajo and
the language was so different from any code or any known language that
our adversaries in World War II couldn't break it. And it's quite
ironic that a people whose major contribution to the modern world was
helping us to win World War II based on unique communications now live
in a place where 70 percent of them don't even have telephones.
I was introduced by a young woman, a 13-year-old young girl who won
a contest -- really a bright young woman -- and she won this contest and
she won a computer. And she found that she couldn't get on the Internet
because she didn't have a telephone line in her home.
Next week, we're going to rural North Carolina to discuss the
prospects of broad-band communications and what it might do to open
opportunities in poor, rural, isolated places. And then in a couple of
months we will have a part of this digital divide tour devoted solely to
the potential that web accessibility offers to disabled Americans to
participate more fully in the educational and economic life of the
Now, this is all sobering at one level, but increasingly hopeful to
me, because I honestly believe that the new information economy has the
potential, at home and around the world, to lift more people out of
poverty more quickly than at any previous period in all of human history
-- and that tapping that potential is actually in our enlightened
And that's why I came here today -- because I need your help and
your support, because now we've come through all these years of this
remarkable economic expansion, we have finally seen even income
inequality begin to diminish over the last two and a half years, as more
and more Americans at the lower end of the income scale begin to fully
participate in the economy. We have a very important choice before us.
And only with your help can America make the right choice -- to make
sure that no one is left behind; to use these new technologies to widen
the circle of opportunity rather than allowing the digital divide to
widen the lines of division in education, race, income and region. I
will say again, it's not only morally the right choice, it's not just
good social policy, it is imperative, in my judgment, if we're going to
keep the economy growing, to find new places where we create not only
new customers, but new businesses and new employees.
Now, I believe we've got to find the right combination of
incentives and initiative to bridge this divide. The distances that
exist are -- in some cases, as I said, they're physical. They're also
educational, and they're clearly economic. But on every one of these
New Markets trips, we have met people who are eager for opportunity.
And like the young people here today who made this tour with me, they
demonstrate that ability and drive and dreams are evenly distributed
throughout the human race and throughout American society. It is
opportunity which is still not evenly distributed.
Everywhere I have been, I find Americans who are not at all
interested in charity, but are very interested in opportunity; not a
handout, but a hand up. We can only tap the potential of these new
workers, these new business owners, these new learners, if we work
together. Over and over again over the last seven years, I have found,
in some of our most important endeavors, the only thing that really
works is the right kind of public-private partnership.
I'll just give you one example. We have the lowest welfare rolls
in 30 years. The welfare rolls have been cut roughly in half since I
became President. And part of it is the laws that have been passed,
including the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which required people who
could work to work, but also invested more money in child care for their
children and transportation so they could get to work, and kept their
kids in food and medicine while they were making the transition.
But part of it was this remarkable partnership now that numbers
over 12,000 businesses -- people who committed that they would
personally go out and find people, help them move from the welfare
rolls, give them the training, give them the support they needed to
succeed. And these people alone, just the 12,000 people in our
partnership, have hired hundreds of thousands of people from the welfare
rolls, many of whom were difficult to place but have succeeded. No
government mandate could have gotten that done. If we hadn't had the
public/private partnership, it would not have worked nearly as well as
The Vice President has worked for more than seven -- or about seven
years now -- in our partnership with the auto companies and the auto
workers on the new generation vehicle and we put a lot of money into it.
But we couldn't develop a car in the government. And yet you see -- if
you noticed in the last Detroit auto show, they're showing cars they
expect to market in the next year or two, including larger cars, that
get 70 to 80 miles a gallon. We have research going on now into the
production of biofuels, not just from corn, but from agricultural waste
products, even from grasses. And if we ever get the conversion level
down to about one gallon of gasoline for eight gallons of fuel, biofuel,
and then you get in a 70-mile-an-hour gas car, you'll be driving a car
that gets over 500 miles a gallon in conventional terms. That will
change the energy future of America and the world forever, and will
prove something I deeply believe -- that we can conquer the challenge of
global warming and continue to grow n ot only our economy, but the
developing economies of the world.
All of this has to be done in partnership. And that's basically
what I propose for closing the digital divide and creating new markets
throughout America. What we want to do is to be a catalyst, to provide
investment incentives and the kind of framework and tools that will
enable people in the private sector to do what is in their interest
We believe that tax incentives and loan guarantees can leverage
private sector investment in distressed areas; get capital flowing to
people in neighborhoods in might otherwise miss, having basically
nothing to do necessarily with high technology investment.
Today, if you want to invest in a poor area of Latin America or
Asia or Africa, we have a framework set up that could get you a
combination of tax breaks and loan guarantees to lower the risk of doing
that. Why? Because we think that we have an obligation as Americans to
help poor people around the world develop stable lives. We know it
promotes democracy, it promotes peace, it promotes environmental
cleanup, it undermines the destablizing forces at work in the world.
All I'm trying to do in terms of the law is to give Americans who have
money to invest the same incentives to invest in poor areas in America
we give them today to invest in poor areas in Latin America or Africa or
Asia. I think that's the right thing to do. (Applause.)
Last fall, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis
Hastert, and I came here to Chicago, met with Reverend Jackson and
Congressman Bobby Rush, and others, and we pledged to work together on a
bipartisan initiative to spur investments in new markets. We are making
real progress on our end of the deal. The House of Representatives took
a very important step last week toward creating the American private
investment companies that I've proposed to spur as much as $1.5 billion
in private investment in our hard-pressed communities. Now, I
understand Speaker Hastert is going to be with you tomorrow and I think
you will see, if this is part of the discussion, that his commitment is
genuine. This should not be a partisan issue.
Every American, Republican, Democrat, independent, Green Party
member, whatever -- every American has got a vested interest in seeing
that every other American has the chance to live up to his or her
God-given potential. So this is very, very important. And the main
thing that we want to do with this portion of the New Markets Initiative
is to make sure that we can get some investment in areas where people
literally are isolated, where we need local, community-based investment,
because you can't just say, well, we'll give them an education, they can
hop on the subway or get in their car and drive to a job. But we also
have to have a comprehensive approach that gives individuals the ability
to bridge the digital divide, to create businesses which are far distant
because technology permits them to overcome distances, and to get the
education and training they need in the first place to succeed.
Now, what have we done in that? Well, when the Congress adopted
the Telecommunications Act a few years ago, we insisted -- the Vice
President and I did -- on something called the e-rate, the power of the
Federal Communications Commission to set the e-rate. It is now worth
over $2 billion, and it gives discounts to schools, to libraries, public
institutions, so they can afford to be a part of the Internet. And it's
had a huge impact.
When I became President, only 3 percent of our classrooms, about 11
percent of our schools, were connected to the Internet. We've been
working on this hard, now, for six years. Today, over two-thirds of our
classrooms, and 95 percent of our schools, are connected, including 90
percent of very poor schools. And we'll be -- by the end of the year,
we'll probably be at 100 percent of the schools connected, except for
those whose physical facilities are literally in too much disrepair to
have a connection.
I know that may be hard for some of you to believe, but it's true.
We have cities where the average school building is 65 years of age or
more. We have -- there are schools in New York City that are still
heated by coal-fired furnaces. But by and large, this e-rate has really
We have a $450-million technology literacy challenge, which is
designed to make sure that we try to match contributions from others who
put technology into our schools. Our budget offers $2 billion in new
tax incentives to help bridge the digital divide, to get the technology
into the schools and into the rural communities, into community
computing centers -- and things like that can be available to adults as
well as children.
We provide $150 million to train new teachers to use technology in
the classroom -- so that they aren't repeatedly embarrassed by their
students knowing more than they do -- and so that they can actually make
the most of it, and $100 million to create more technology centers in
1,000 communities across the country.
Today, I can tell you that 214 of these community technology
centers will be created this year alone and 136 more will be expanded.
These are very important because they are not only available to young
people, but also to adults who can use such centers after work and
themselves acquire these skills. It's very, very important that we
recognize that this cannot be solely the province of the school years.
We have got to do more to bring adults who have been left on the other
side of the digital divide into the economic mainstream. We are going
to expand our investment in these centers by about $86 million from
state, local, private and federal sources together.
Not far from here, on Chicago's West Side is one of these centers.
I mentioned the young people I met today from there, at Street-Level
Youth Media. They spend a lot of their time there. They are here in
this audience today. They can access the Internet and a lot more. They
can have classes in website design, projects in video production and,
most important, the chance to apply their skills in real work for real
wages. Every child in America should have this opportunity and we are
trying to give it to every child in America. (Applause.)
If the budget passes, we will have 1,000 of these neighborhood
networks next year. That is double the number we have now in the
country. These computer learning centers are the fruit of
public/private partnership under the leadership of the Department of
Housing and Urban Development. They have already helped residents of
some of our poorest neighborhoods move from welfare to work, increase
their earnings, even start their own businesses.
One of the things that is totally unappreciated about the nature of
the Internet revolution is the extent to which it gives people who are
otherwise completely out of the economic mainstream -- who could never
have access to the kind of up-front capital it would take to start a
traditional business and rent a big office space -- the chance to
actually earn money on the Net. The first time I discovered this was
when some of my friends at eBay told me that they now have 30,000 people
making a living off eBay -- not working for the company, but making a
living buying and selling and trading -- and that the profiles indicated
to them that a very substantial number of these people had previously
been on welfare.
So again I will say, if you believe that there is an equal
distribution of intelligence, ability, and dreams throughout the
population, and if you have seen in your own lives what this has done
for you and for this economy, it seems to me that closing the digital
divide is one of the most important things we could do that would have
the quickest results in alleviating the kind of poverty which is
inexcusable in the kind of economy we're experiencing today.
Let me also say that -- I made a joke about it earlier, but I think
the idea of having teachers who are really able to make the most of
technology in the classroom, and teach their students, is something
that's very important. Everybody I have ever worked with on this in the
last several years -- all the heads of all the companies that have tried
to really help our schools continue to hammer this.
I got a letter from the deans of more than 200 colleges and
universities, pledging to join in that effort, holding themselves
responsible for results, being willing to test their progress with a
tool designed by the CEO Forum on Education and Technology, a forum that
includes a lot of the companies that are represented in this auditorium
today. But this is a big deal. This is a serious commitment that we
haven't had in the past. And I want to thank the Forum on Education and
Technology and these 200 deans for what they want to do to train our
But this is just the start. So here is what I came to do really.
I want to ask you to do the following things. First of all, if you are
not already a part of it, I hope that the companies, everyone
represented here from the largest to the smallest, would support our
national call to action, which I issued two weeks ago. Its basic goals
are to provide 21st century learning tools for every child in every
school and to create digital opportunity for every family and every
I have asked for businesses and schools and community groups and
volunteers to enlist in the effort. More than 400 organizations have
signed on in the first two weeks and they are already doing amazing
things. Many of you have been working at this for some years now, to
help in education and in economic development. But if you are not part
of this, I hope you will become part of this. I hope you will do more
than sign a pledge; I hope you will commit to fulfill it.
I want you all to ask if there is anything you are not doing that
you could do to give our schools computers and high-speed connections,
to design the educational software our children need to succeed, to make
sure our teachers are as comfortable in front of a computer as in front
of a chalkboard. Again, I say many companies are leading this effort
today, but we need more. The biggest problem in American education and
the biggest problem in combating poverty and creating economic
opportunity is not that there are no good ideas. Every problem in
American education today has been solved by somebody somewhere.
I remember when I started running for President and I was coming to
Chicago, there was a woman here from my home state of Arkansas who was
principal of a junior high school that was in a neighborhood with the
highest murder rate in the state of Illinois. And you had to ask to get
into this junior high school. They had 150 mothers and 75 fathers in
that school every week. They had a strict no-weapons policy; if you had
one, you were history. They had a zero dropout rate. The kids went on
to high school and did well, and a phenomenal percentage of them went on
And I could give you lots of examples like that. The problem we
have -- and in terms of closing the digital divide and education and
economics, there are examples everywhere. The problem we have in
America with social change is getting things to scale -- is reaching a
critical mass of people. That's why I came here today. This is a
critical mass of the IT community. And you need to reach a critical
mass of the at-risk kids, and the communities where economic and
educational opportunities are needed to close the digital divide.
The second thing I want to ask you to do, so that today's students
can become tomorrow's success stories, is to expand internships and to
deepen your talent pool. I just received a survey that I read just the
day before yesterday indicating that, even making allowances for
differences in education, women and minorities are still comparatively
under-represented in most IT occupations. We can do a lot to close the
digital divide just by equalizing the representation once people do have
the education and skills they need. (Applause.)
The third thing I would like to ask you to do is to recognize, as I
said before, there is a limit to what the federal government can do. I
intend to set up a framework and to try to provide the necessary tools
and to generate as much activity as I can. But we need more
partnerships at the local level with the schools, with the local
communities, with the local community groups and with local government.
I think you will find that if you are not involved in this kind of work,
there is more interest in it than ever before and people are eager for
If we work together, we can empower people with the tools and the
training they need to lift themselves out of poverty. If we work
together, we can give people the ability to use new technology to start
new businesses. If we work together, we can close the digital divide
and open digital opportunities.
I am asking you to do this because you can. I am asking you to do
this because it's right. And I am asking you to do this because America
needs it, to have a continually growing economy.
The productivity increases generated by information technology in
the IT companies themselves, and then through application throughout the
economy, is what has enabled us to continue to grow at 4 percent and to
keep inflation down. I am doing my best to open new markets around the
world and to keep our markets open, which helps to keep inflation down
and to grow. But the best opportunity we have are all those people out
there that are dying to be part of what the rest of us may take for
And I can tell you, I have lived longer than most people who do
very well in the work that you do. Our country has never had an economy
like this. The last time we had anything close was in the 1960s. It
came apart over the competing claims and crises in civil rights and the
war in Vietnam, and the attempt to finance all that and deal with the
problems of the poor. I see a lot of people who are gray-headed like me
out there nodding their heads.
And when it happened, when I grew up in it, I thought that economy
would last forever. I just took it for granted that we were the most
productive economy in the world, we were going to win the Cold War, we'd
solve the civil rights problems in the courts and the Congress and
everything would be hunky-dory. And then boom, one day it was gone.
And I've waited 35 years, as a citizen, for our country to have the
chance to give all our people the future of our dreams for our children.
That's the chance we've got now. And I know you're very busy, I know
you have a lot of other things to do, but I don't know how many years
we'll ever have to wait again until a moment like this comes along.
I can't do it alone. The federal government can't do it alone.
But if we all do it together, there is nothing we can't do. We will
never, ever, ever have a better chance -- and therefore, a more profound
responsibility -- to close the digital divide.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 2:42 P.M. CDT