Technicity Times
    Issue 1 • November 2002

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New Web Site Provides Resources for Empowering Poor Communities
50 Million Americans Face Online Content Gap

Citing original research indicating a persistent digital divide in content for low-income communities, The Children's Partnership, along with the Markle Foundation, launched the Community Contentbank (www.contentbank.org), a new online resource that provides low-income communities with information and tools to serve their unique needs.

A new report, Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Communities: An Issue Brief, showed that 50 million Americans are currently underserved by available Web-based resources.

"We've seen first-hand that low-income residents are eager to take advantage of the educational and employment opportunities on the Internet, and that community technology groups offer an ideal way to connect them with the information they need. Contentbank.org is both a service and a lever to ensure that the Internet benefits low-income and underserved users," said Laurie Lipper, co-director of The Children's Partnership.

The new Web site promotes the creation of original content tailored to the needs of poor, limited-literacy and non-English-speaking populations, who can be ignored by conventional information sources. Contentbank.org is geared toward the growing number of community-based organizations that connect poor neighborhoods to technology. Contentbank.org encourages the creation of neighborhood-specific online connections to health, education, housing and employment resources.

"All Americans should have the chance to benefit from our networked economy and society," said Zoë Baird, president of the Markle Foundation. "We invested in Contentbank.org to begin building critical resources for low-income communities and to encourage corporations and governments to develop content that serves the needs of those communities."

Over the past four years, the number of Americans with family incomes of less than $25,000 annually, who used the Internet, more than doubled from 7.8 million to 16.7 million. As larger numbers of low-income, limited-literacy and non-English-speaking populations begin using the Internet, the need for relevant content is becoming more urgent.

"Internet content is skewed towards those with disposable incomes and higher educational levels. Contentbank.org aims to tilt the scales toward the millions of low-income users who are eager to take advantage of new opportunities online," said Wendy Lazarus, co-director of The Children's Partnership.

As a national advocacy organization for children and families in low-income communities, The Children's Partnership spent two years developing and testing Contentbank.org, a solution to the problems identified in their groundbreaking study released in 2000, Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Americans. The study found that online content — not just access to computers — is the "new frontier of the digital divide."

The Web site arises from a growing grassroots movement to bring Internet access and training to low-income, rural and underserved communities to help them benefit directly from the digital economy. While computer access has grown, needed content is still lagging severely behind, according to the new report. The research provides an update of the state of online content for underserved communities.

The brief also found that forty-four million Americans do not have the reading and writing skills necessary to take advantage of many opportunities. Although appropriate content for limited-literacy Americans could help raise literacy levels as well as employment skills, there continues to be a severe shortage of Internet information for early readers.

Today, more Americans speak a language other than English at home than did two years ago — an estimated 45 million compared to 32 million in 2000. Spanish speakers can find more online content than two years ago, but the supply is still quite limited and nearly nonexistent for many other languages.

There has also been a notable increase in the number of places in local communities that can serve as "distribution and production" centers for relevant Internet information and applications. Compared to two years ago, the number of community technology centers has doubled, while the number of public libraries offering Internet access grew from 11,000 to over 15,000.

While Internet access from a location outside of the home more than doubled between 1998 and 2001, increasing from 17% to 34.8%, places like schools, libraries and community technology programs offer users the opportunity to obtain relevant Internet information and applications. Residents who want to create content they value can get coaching at these centers to do so.

Contentbank.org provides evaluated and concisely organized information from the Web that is ready for use by community technology practitioners. Users will also find twenty recommended Web sites for health, education, jobs and housing, as well as select limited-literacy, Spanish, and cultural content sites, highlighting features especially useful to underserved users. In addition, a checklist serves as a quick guide to the most frequent content barriers facing low-income families — to determine if a site is likely to meet users' needs.

Information and tools to develop local content include "Creating a Content Site: A Content Primer" and five step-by-step best practice models to build on, software tools like Read-A-Loud and Spanish translation that can make content more accessible, message boards to encourage contributions from a dispersed group of individuals working in local communities nationwide to bridge the content divide, ways to advocate for community technology, research about the status of online content for underserved communities, and up-to-date information about local content programs.

Article printed courtesy of The Children's Partnership.

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