October 22, 2004

Despite a County-Wide Rise in Access to PCs and the Internet, South County Residents Disproportionately Lack Access to Technology

San Diego is the most wired place in the nation, where everyone has access to a computer and the Internet, right? Wrong according to a 2004 RTA/Waitt Family Foundation study, San Diego’s Digital Divide Revisited: Approaching Digital Inclusion – but Disparities Persist, a sequel to their groundbreaking 2001 study.

If you’re Hispanic/Latino, low-income, over 65, or a resident of South County, the digital divide is still very real. Hispanics, who comprise 28% of San Diego’s population, make up 40% of the “unwired.” One-third of South County’s residents do not have access to a computer at home, school or work. The lowest-income San Diegans (those with household incomes less than $20,000) and those between 18 to 24 years old are most likely to rely on public access facilities for their computer access. And if you didn’t finish school and are working at a low-skill job, you’re only half as likely to have a computer at work as the rest of the population.

San Diego’s Digital Divide Revisited indicates that while there have been many positive changes throughout the region — including increases in computer ownership, Internet access and broadband connections — economic, ethnic, educational, geographic and age-related disparities still exist.

“In the original study, Mapping a Future for Digital Connections, a Study of the Digital Divide in San Diego County, we raised the rallying cry to address the significant digital divide in San Diego, recognizing that it was an issue of both social and economic concern. Now, as computer and Internet skills have become the basis for functioning in modern society, it is crucial that we pay attention to the disparities which continue to exist, and take community-wide action to close the gap once and for all,” said Tyler Orion, President and CEO, RTA.

At a special event RTA/Waitt Family Foundation will be reported on the new state of the digital divide and announced the five components of the Tech Power program:

· Upgraded equipment at ten community technology centers, with some centers refurbishing their previous equipment and raffling it off to volunteers, students and community members.

· A new public access search engine designed and hosted by the San Diego Community Tech Coalition.

· A new program from the nonprofit agency Heads on Fire that will use technology to engage young Hispanic/Latino adults in solving pressing community issues in South County.

· A low-interest loan program to help people buy computers, made possible by partnerships with Gateway, One Economy Corporation and California Bank & Trust.

· A bilingual campaign advertising the loan program and community technology centers. 

In an ongoing effort to remove equities in our society and promote technology inclusion, the RTA and the Waitt Family Foundation are launching a public awareness campaign to promote community technology centers. These centers are located in areas of the county where computer and Internet access are statistically lower than average. They provide residents with access to computers and high-speed Internet connections free of charge, along with technical support and training in English and Spanish. Most do not place a time limit on computer usage, so residents are able to research health issues, do homework, take continuing education courses, pay bills online, even write books.

A survey being conducted by one location, the City Heights Community Technology Center, shows that visitors come for many reasons including pursuing educational goals, improving computer skills, improving job skills, and increasing self-confidence. Two-thirds of those users report that they are much closer to reaching their goals than they were before visiting the technology center. Visitors also report a general increase in self-confidence, more positive feelings about computers and technologies, and more positive feelings about City Heights.

At Casa Familiar, where hundreds of residents use the computer lab each week, an 76-year old man gained his GED using the computer center. Another local resident comes everyday to work on his book. A high school student visiting a community technology center discovered that she could use the computer to improve her math skills — she now mentors other students at the lab. Seventeen students are enrolled in the Plaza Communitaria, where they will receive their elementary and secondary education certificates, with all instruction provided in Spanish.

The RTA and Waitt Family Foundation have also forged partnerships with companies that share their vision of reaching out to the communities where public access and technology support are still lacking.

In line with the company’s philosophy of helping people improve their lives through technology, Gateway will provide computers at a discounted cost. California Bank & Trust will extend low-interest credit to qualified buyers who may not have the credit history to obtain other types of loans. One Economy Corporation is providing management expertise and promotion for the program, which has been successfully pilot-tested in other cities. Through the contributions of these entities, people who would not otherwise be able to afford a computer will have the opportunity to purchase one for less than $23 per month. Residents can apply for the loans through the community technology centers, then return to the centers to receive training and support once they receive the new equipment.

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