Community-based technology centers narrow the “digital divide” between the technology haves and have-nots by providing computer access and education to the unemployed and working poor, according to a National Science Foundation (NSF)—funded report released this month.
In one of the largest studies to date of low-income computer users, researchers at EDC found that neighborhood computer centers affiliated with the Community Technology Centers’ Network (CTCNet) serve a largely nonwhite, female, and low-income population. Of the 817 people surveyed in both urban and rural settings, 62% were female, two-thirds identified themselves as nonwhite, and 75% reported household incomes of less than $30,000.
The centers provide participants with a variety of educational and vocational opportunities at low or no cost, including computer, job training, English language, and GED classes. They also provide unstructured access to computers, the Internet, and e-mail. Respondents to the study ranked “a comfortable, supportive atmosphere” as the top reason for coming to a technology center; 94% expressed positive feelings about their center, while only 6% said their feelings were negative or mixed.
“CTCs stand out not only because they offer underserved populations access to technology, but also because they offer people opportunities to pursue their educational, employment, and other personal goals,” according to June Mark, one of the authors of the study.
Researchers found that the majority of CTCNet participants use their centers to improve job skills and to look for jobs. Well over half of the job seekers at the centers reported that participation at the center brought them significantly closer to their vocational goals. In addition, most users reported gaining increased self-confidence, greater self-esteem, and support for pursuing personal goals through their experiences at the centers.
The EDC study comes on the heels of a Commerce Department study, “Falling Through the Net II: New Data on the Digital Divide,” which was released last week and which showed a growing gap in computer ownership between the rich and the poor. “Community technology centers ensure that we don’t leave part of our population behind with 19th century skills as we move into a 21st century economy,” said Laura Breeden, interim executive director of CTCNet.
CTCNet—which is based at EDC and funded by NSF, other foundations, corporations and member dues—provides opportunities and resources to people who have traditionally lacked access to computers and computer-related technology, such as the Internet. CTCNet has 280 affiliates in more than 30 states. Some of the affiliates are stand alone centers; others operate as one part of a larger organization, such as a multiservice agency, public housing development, youth organization, job training center, or community cable access center.
Originally published on August 1, 1998