Thursday, October 31, 2002

A Lack of Money Forces Computer Initiative to Close
…Stephen M. Case, then the chairman of America Online, and many other high-technology executives announced an initiative called PowerUP less than three years ago, they said that their donated millions would help bridge the "digital divide" between rich and poor.

"We must take steps now so that in the Internet century, no children are left behind," Mr. Case said.

But tomorrow , with nearly 1,000 community-based technology centers financed across the country, the national offices of PowerUp will close and the centers will be left to fend for — and finance — themselves.

Some experts in bringing technology tools to the poor said that there were problems from the start. Larry Irving, a former Clinton administration official who was a prominent strategist in digital divide efforts, called PowerUP a " McDonald's-style, top-down franchise operation," which he said is not the best method for community development.

"I've been in this area for about 10 years — the one thing we've learned is local efforts work best," he said.

Ultimately, the tapestry unraveled. "It's a partnership," said one executive involved with PowerUP. "It was never supposed to be one person at the banquet table saying month after month `Here's the check.' "

Many groups are still providing technology services to the poor and disadvantaged, with programs financed by AOL Time Warner, Intel, Microsoft, Gateway and others, and by groups such as CTCnet, a grassroots national network of community technology centers.