Tuesday, April 28, 1998
(As prepared for delivery)
We meet today to break down walls. At each critical point of our nation's history, we have acted on our duty to give every citizen the chance to live out the American Dream. In the Agricultural Age, we ensured that land went not only to the privileged few, but to the common yeoman farmer. In the Industrial Age, we focussed on making sure that all Americans -- and not just the industrial barons -- had access to capital. Today, in the Information Age, connecting all our people to a universe of knowledge and learning is the key to ensuring a lifetime of success.
The facts are clear -- and startling. Five years ago, 3 million people were connected to the Internet. Two years ago, 40 million people were connected. Last year, it was 100 million. No one knows where we will be next year, but the course is clear: technology is transforming our lives. Today, we can order blue jeans and cars custom-made to our specifications. Small businesses spring up overnight and provide services to millions. Schools are using the Internet to explore the Red Planet, dissect virtual frogs, and learn foreign languages. The Information Age is all around us -- and it's here to stay.
That's why, in 1994, President Clinton and I set a goal of wiring every classroom and library to the Internet. On Net Days all over the country, Americans from all walks of life have come together in modern-day electronic barn-raisings to connect children to a brighter future. Over these past four years, we've increased the number of classrooms wired to the Internet nine times over.
We've done this the old-fashioned way: through the American tradition of volunteerism. Americans working together in their own communities have shouldered the common load and connected our children to the possibilities of the 21st century.
I want to give a special commendation to the volunteers from America's labor unions, who have worked so hard in their communities to make this possible. Volunteers from the AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the Communications Workers of America have donated their weekends and free time to connect more than 700 of the poorest schools in America -- many of them in our urban and rural empowerment zones -- to the promise of the new economy. I encourage all Americans to do their part to connecting our children to a brighter future.
We must never lose sight of the fact that our work is about much more than connectingcomputers to the Internet.
It's about connecting students to the resources they need to succeed and learn. That's why today I am announcing several steps to connect our kids to adult mentors and tutors on-line, including a new national network of on-line volunteers; a new guide from the Department of Education on tele-mentoring in math, science, and technology; and a national workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Education Department to help companies, labor unions, and others get their employees or members involved in mentoring and tutoring in the digital age. With these new steps, we are helping America's children get the mentoring and tutoring they need -- when and where they need it.
Mentoring and tutoring can play a powerful role in helping young people to get the skills and confidence that are so important to succeed. And I challenge companies, labor unions, scientific organizations and others to get their employees or members involved as mentors and tutors for youth -- in-person when they can and on-line when they can't. And I challenge these organizations to start with our neediest schools -- both urban and rural. Around the nation, there are thousands of professionals with expertise in math and science that our children need. We simply cannot afford to let this valuable resource go to waste.
On-line tutoring and mentoring isn't a substitute for flesh-and-blood volunteers, to help children in their communities. But it can be a powerful addition to America's great tradition of community service.
Yet, for all this to be possible, we must work to make sure that all of America's young people have access to the Internet and all the tools it holds. That's why today I am announcing a series of steps that will expand the number of young people in our cities, towns, and rural communities who can tap into the wonders of today's best educational technology.
First, by this time next year, every child in every school in our urban centers will have access to the Internet regardless of how much their family earns, where they live, or the color of their skin.
With the e-rate, we will make an unprecedented commitment to connect classrooms and libraries to the Internet. The e-rate offers discounts of 20 to 90 percent on telecommunications services, internal connections, and Internet access -- with the deepest discounts going to the poorest urban and rural schools.
I believe that when we look back on this moment years from now we will see the beginning of the e-rate as momentous moment which changed the shape of the country, much like the Homestead Act transformed the America of the last century. I would like to offer special thanks to FCC Chairman Bill Kennard for his passionate commitment to eliminating the digital divide. And I would like to Congress for their foresight in making this important commitment to our children.
Second, by this time next year, each of the 53,000 Native American children in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools will have access to the Internet through Net Days next month and e-rate discounts.
Third, we need hard numbers on which American children are being left out of the digital revolution. That is why I am directing the Commerce Department to study Internet and computer usage among all segments of society, and report back on the findings within three months.
Even when charged up with electricity, a computer is a cold and lifeless piece of circuitry. It has no soul of its own.
It is up to us -- at this moment in our history -- to decide where the miraculous march of progress will take us. We can let technology be a negative force that furthers divisions, or we can use it to connect all Americans together and give them the same shot at success. I believe that this can be a golden moment for our nation -- if all of us work together to seize its promise.
Now I would like to talk to some kids around the country who've benefitted from the work that labor unions have done in connecting them to a brighter future...
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