[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: WILLIAM J. CLINTON (2000, Book I)]
[February 2, 2000]
[Pages 169-174]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at Frank W. Ballou Senior High School
February 2, 2000

    Thank you. Now, all of you sitting out here in this audience, you 
know, some of us speak in public for a living; others don't. I thought 
Darnell was terrific. Didn't you think he did 
a good job?
    I am so glad to be here today with all of you at Ballou Senior High 
School. I thank the band for playing for us earlier today. I thought you 
all did a great job. And I thank Dr. Durham and 
Dr. Bridges for welcoming me here and for giving 
me a track-and-field jacket, which I will wear happily. I thank the 
students who met me.
    I want to say a special word of thanks to the chairman and CEO of 
America Online, Steve Case, and for Epic 
Learning's president, David Stirling. I thank 
them for what they said here today and for the commitment they have to 
giving you and young people like you all over this country a chance to 
live your dreams by making sure you have access to the technological 
future that ought to be within reach of every American. They don't have 
to do this; they're doing this because they know it is the right thing 
to do. And I thank them for being here.
    I want to talk a little today about what our job is in the 
Government, what my job as President is, what Washington's job should be 
to make sure that we can have more stories like the ones I saw from the 
students today that Darnell introduced me to. 
And I want to thank all the students that showed me what they were doing 
to either repair or to work with computers. But nothing that the 
President proposes that costs any money can be done unless the Congress 
goes along. And there is an enormous amount of interest in the United 
States Congress today in both parties, in both the Senate and the House, 
to do something about this.
    And there is a big delegation from Congress here, so I want to 
introduce them. I'd like to ask them to stand, and I hope you will 
express your appreciation to them: First of all, Senator Bob 
Bennett, from Utah, who headed our Y2K 
efforts in Congress--thank you, sir; Congresswoman Maxine 
Waters, from California; Congresswoman Sheila 
Jackson Lee, from Texas; Congressman Bill 
Jefferson, from Louisiana; Congressman 
Adam Smith, from Washington; Congresswoman Ellen 
Tauscher, from California; Congressman 
David Wu, from Oregon; and your Representative in 
Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton. Thank 
you. [Applause]

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    Did I miss anybody? And I want to thank your wonderful 
Mayor, who was once a member of our 
administration, Mayor Anthony Williams. Stand up, there. Thank you very 
much. [Applause]
    I want to just mention a couple of other people. First of all, thank 
you, Superintendent Ackerman, for welcoming 
me. I want to thank Harris Wofford, who is 
the head of the AmeriCorps program and VISTA. The AmeriCorps*VISTA 
volunteers are working to help solve this problem of the digital divide 
all over America. They're young people who are going back into our 
schools, going back into our community, helping people who otherwise 
wouldn't have a chance, and earning some money themselves for college. 
Some of you might want to consider joining AmeriCorps when you get out 
of high school.
    Stand up, Senator Wofford. Thank you very 
much. [Applause]
    I want to thank Angela Lee from AT&T and 
Julie Evans from NetDay for the work they have 
done to help connect all of our schools to the Internet. I want to thank 
three people in our administration: Gene Sperling, my National Economic Adviser, who has worked so hard on 
this; Secretary Daley, who is speaking in 
Harlem on this issue today; and I want to thank Vice President 
Gore for reasons I'll say in a moment, but 
he had a great deal to do with what we have been able to accomplish over 
the last 6 years.
    I just got a wonderful tour from Darnell 
and a chance to learn how technology is enhancing your educational 
mission. And as Steve Case said, it will only increase when you become 
one of these power-up sites. I learned every freshman is taking a 
computer literacy class. I learned students are going on-line to get 
help with their homework and learn what they need to do to prepare for 
college. I learned that you can chat in foreign languages with people 
around the world and work on projects with scientists from our Naval 
Research Lab.
    I was particularly pleased to learn about Epic Learning's long-term 
commitment to help students toward certificates in high-tech careers and 
about the way companies like 3M, AT&T, and Cisco, along with the AFL-
CIO, are working to give you additional hardware, software, and teacher 
    One thing that I think may be a downside from the students' point of 
view--it occurred to me when I was driving through the snow today--is 
that once we get everybody wired, you'll still have to go to school even 
when you can't get here, because you can just go on the Internet. 
[Laughter] But I think it's worth the sacrifice to give you a better 
    I wanted to say to you--to give you some examples. When we talk 
about bridging the digital divide, what do we mean? We mean that 
everybody ought to have access to a computer; everybody ought to have 
access to the Internet; everybody ought to know how to use it; and then 
we ought to make it possible for people to make the maximum use of it. I 
want to just give you some examples of what this incredibly profound 
change in our society has wrought in individual lives.
    Victor Shen is a high school junior in 
Whittier, Alaska. He dreams of becoming a professional mathematician, 
but he lives in a small school in our largest but most rural State. So 
his school doesn't offer college-level calculus. His town is so remote 
that he's cut off from the whole rest of the world for several months 
every winter. But he will soon have the chance to take the classes he 
needs to pursue his dream of becoming a mathematician by getting on-
line. It wouldn't be there.
    It ought to be there for every person like him, in every rural area 
and every inner-city neighborhood in the entire United States of 
America. There are lots of Victor Shens out there. There are people in 
this high school who could become professional mathematicians, 
professional scientists. There are people like you in every community in 
this country. No one should be shut out of this.
    Listen to this. Two years ago a man named Clinton Johnson lost his little bakery on 125th Street in Harlem in 
New York City. He had no savings to support his wife and two children. 
But he found a community technology center near his home, learned HTML 
code, and got himself a good job as a web developer.
    Dale O'Reilley, a grandmother of two from 
Medford, New Jersey, was diagnosed 9 years ago with Lou Gehrig's 
disease. Now, even though she can no longer move or speak, a special 
laptop computer allows her to give voice to her thoughts, and she 
continues to write newspaper articles for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
    The areas in America with the highest unemployment are our Native 
American reservations.

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I visited last year the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, 
the home of the Oglala Sioux. The unemployment rate there is over 70 
percent. We're all looking for new ways for them to find things to do. 
They have very gifted artists and crafts and making Native American 
products. This year I ordered Christmas gifts from the Pine Ridge 
Reservation over the Internet. They would never be able to market their 
products across this Nation--never, ever. They wouldn't have the money 
to do it. But because they have a webpage, people like us can find them 
and help them to build their dreams.
    And before we came out here, I was talking to Steve about--I spent 
some time a few months ago with the executives of eBay out in Northern 
California. Some of you may have found eBay on the net. It's a trading 
site. And the company's going like crazy, because people love to buy and 
sell things. It's like an old-fashioned community like the farmers' 
market used to be in my hometown on Saturday morning. And people buy and 
sell all kinds of things on eBay. There are now over 20,000 Americans 
making a living, not working for eBay but buying and selling on the 
site, and many of them used to be on welfare. They found a way through 
the net to empower themselves through their minds to have a different 
    Now, this is just the beginning. We have only scratched the surface. 
Imagine what it will be like when every single child in this country can 
just stretch a hand across a keyboard and pull up every book ever 
written, every painting ever created, every symphony or jazz piece ever 
composed; when high-speed wireless networks bring distant learning and 
telemedicine to every rural area in this country; when even the smallest 
business can compete worldwide just because they have access to people 
across the world through the net.
    This is the future we are trying to build. In 1994, when Vice 
President Gore and I sponsored the first NetDay to begin to hook all of 
our schools and all of our classrooms up to the Internet, only 3 percent 
of the classrooms in America were wired. Since then, the public and 
private sectors, through generous grants, through NetDays, volunteer 
work, and through the steep discounts that schools can get in access 
charges, thanks to the so-called E-rate which the Vice President pioneered--since then, we've gone from 3 percent 
of our classrooms connected to over half of our classrooms connected. 
And 90 percent of the schools in the United States today have at least 
one connection to the Internet. That's a big step forward, and I'm proud 
of that.
    But as you have already heard, there is still a big digital divide 
in this country. And it runs through income first. Low income families 
are far less likely to have access to the Internet and computers. There 
is also, for reasons we don't entirely understand, there is a separate 
racial and ethnic component to it. Among low income families, African-
American and Hispanic families are less likely than other low income 
families to have computers and to be hooked up to the Internet.
    We also know that people who live in rural areas, regardless of 
their race, are far, far less likely to own computers and to be wired to 
the net--even though they, in some ways, need it more than anybody else 
because of their physical isolation--and that this is most pronounced in 
Indian country in the United States.
    Eventually this digital divide will deprive businesses of the 
workers they need. That's why I was so glad to see people training here 
to learn how to use and to repair computers. It could also widen 
inequality in our society between people, based on who's connected and 
who's not.
    Now, at a time when our country has the longest economic expansion 
in history and the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years and the lowest 
minority unemployment rates ever recorded, we must close the digital 
divide. We have worked too hard to turn this country around and to get 
it going in the right direction to let all this generation of young 
people wind up with greater inequality, when we have a chance to have 
greater equality of opportunity in America than ever in our history.
    Some of you may know that I have been going around America holding 
what I call new markets tours, to make the argument that with all the 
prosperity of the country, now is the time to recognize and be honest 
about the fact that not every community has felt the economic prosperity 
of the last few years and that it is our obligation to bring economic 
opportunity to all the neighborhoods and all the rural areas and all the 
Indian reservations, where they don't know there has been a recovery 
because it hasn't changed their lives. If we don't do it now, we will 
never get around to doing this. Now is the time to do it.

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    In April I am going to lead one of these new markets tours, focused 
only on this issue, closing the digital divide. What can we do to have 
the kind of stories I saw in your classroom today in every classroom and 
every neighborhood, among every group in every community in the United 
States? And I've asked Congress to help me. And I want to talk a little 
bit about what I think our job is.
    First of all, we ought to have a goal. I believe in having big 
goals. If you have big goals and you work towards them, even if you 
don't quite get there, you look around and you find you've come a long 
way. If you don't have big goals, you don't get much done. What should 
our big goal be? Our big goal should be to make connection to the 
Internet as common as connection to telephones is today. That's what our 
big goal ought to be.
    And I think we should start by making sure that every community has 
a technology center that serves not just young people but adults as 
well. [Applause] Yes, you can clap for that. That's all right. I don't 
want to take credit for this. We started doing this 2 years ago because 
Congresswoman Maxine Waters from California, 
who is here today, who was then chairman of the Congressional Black 
Caucus, brought this idea to our attention. She said, ``You ought to 
have community technology centers everywhere for the adults, for the 
people who aren't in the schools. They need access to this, too.''
    These centers were working so well that we tripled our investment in 
them last year. And I have given Congress a budget that will triple our 
investment in them again so we can have 1,000 community centers with 
computers serving the adults of America who otherwise would not have 
access to them. Thank you very much, Congresswoman Waters, and I hope we can pass it.
    Second, we want to join with the private sector to bring more 
computers and Internet access into the homes of low income people. 
Public-spirited members of the high-tech community have already helped 
us--pledged to help us on this. I know of at least two places in America 
where there is a serious program, thanks to the private sector, not only 
to hook up all the classrooms but to give more low income students' 
parents computers in their homes and make sure they know how to E-mail 
the school and keep working back and forth on the homework, on the 
progress of life in school.
    In one of these districts in particular, in New Jersey, where a lot 
of the students are first-generation immigrants whose parents' main 
language is not English, there has been an explosion in student 
performance, in part because the net has enabled the parents who are 
working all day, who are busy, who hardly have enough money to support 
their children, but because they're connected, they can be directly 
involved through E-mail in their children's education. It made a big 
difference. And we need to recognize that as much as we can do with the 
community centers, which we ought to do now, eventually we're going to 
have to give home access to low income people just like the rest of us 
have, and I think we should be working on it.
    Third thing I want to do is to ask Congress to give private 
companies a couple of billion dollars--that's a lot of money--in tax 
incentives to get them to build and support these community technology 
centers, donate quality computers, and provide computer training.
    Fourth, I want to do more to give--this is a big issue--I bet you 
notice this here; I bet some teachers know this--we must do more to give 
quality technology training to all of our new teachers in America, to 
make sure they're as good with computers as they are with textbooks. You 
can have all the computers in the world, and if the kids know more about 
it than the teachers--which is often the case, at least if they're as 
technologically challenged as I have been in my life--we'll be behind.
    Why should we expect teachers who did not grow up in the computer 
age to just know everything they should know to teach the kids 
everything they can teach to maximize this? We should do more. We owe it 
to the teachers of this country to give them all the training they need 
to maximize all this hardware and software that we're doing our best to 
put at their fingertips, and at the use of their students.
    Next thing we need to do is bring high-speed networks to underserved 
communities. Businesses are looking for high-speed Internet access when 
they consider new sites. One of the problems I've got in trying to 
convince people that--even with tax incentives--they ought to go to 
isolated areas is they don't have high-speed Internet access, and time 
is money. So it's very important to do that.

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    And finally, we want to triple our investment in our Commerce 
Department's Technology Opportunity Program, to create innovative 
applications of technology for all low income communities. For example, 
we want to have health information systems that raise childhood 
immunization rates in inner cities. We want to have mentoring for at-
risk youth that can be done via the Internet. We believe there are a lot 
of things that can be done to lift the lives of low income people and to 
bring benefits to them that normally aren't there, if we just think 
about it and we give people the tools who live in these communities to 
think about it and find ways to maximize their future.

    It would be a terrible irony of our time if these tools, these 
information revolutionary tools that are breaking down barriers all over 
the world--and I'll just give you one more fact. When I became 
President--now, to the kids, this seems like a long time ago, but for 
the adults, it won't be--when I became President 7 years and 2 weeks 
ago, there were 50--50 sites on the World Wide Web--50. Today, there are 
over 50 million. And it's the fastest growing means of communication in 
history by far. Nothing even comes close.

    And as a result, I told somebody the other day--you know, I come 
from a small town in rural Arkansas, and I've got a cousin that plays 
chess once or twice a week with a guy in Australia. I mean, it's 
unbelievable. This is the kind of thing that's going on. This tool is 
breaking down barriers between nations and cultures and enabling us to 
come together, and it's opening up all these wonderful opportunities. It 
would be a tragedy if we allowed this instrument that is also breaking 
down barriers to build up new barriers to people living their dreams, 
simply because they didn't have access to it. That's what this whole 
thing is about.

    There are kids in this gym today, who in a former time might never 
have been able to even think about getting an education in some sort of 
esoteric technology or scientific subject, that will see something on 
the web that will spark your interest and that you will then be able to 
pursue, that could change your whole life. It would be wrong for you not 
to have that opportunity.

    There are people here today who will understand that they can use 
this tool to make a living and to create economic opportunity in this 
part of Washington, DC, that's never been there. It would be wrong for 
you not to have that opportunity.

    There are people here today who can find out information about 
things that already exist. I saw--one young woman was looking at the 
questions she should ask in going to college. Every one of you should 
know that already on the books, we have passed tax credits, 
scholarships, and loans so that at least 2 years of college is 
affordable to everybody in America now--I don't care how poor you are. 
And if the Congress passes the legislation before them now, 4 years of 
college will be affordable to everybody in America--I don't care what 
your income is. You need to know that.

    And it will be tragic if this instrument, that has done more to 
break down barriers between people than anything in all of human 
history, built a new wall because not everybody had access to it. That's 
what this whole deal's about.

    Steve Case and I were talking--when Darnell was up here talking and 
he said, ``You know, I'm not little anymore,'' and he did that sort of, 
oh, shucks, routine, you know? [Laughter] I told Steve Case, I said, 
``Boy, he is really good.'' [Laughter] And Steve said, ``Yes, I'm glad I 
don't have to follow him.'' [Laughter] I want every American to have a 
story like Darnell's. And this tool means 
that we don't have to give up on anybody. We don't have to leave anybody 
behind. We can all go forward together in the most exciting age this 
country has ever known. And we're here to tell you we will do our best 
to make sure you go.

    And I want to close, as Mr. Case did, by saying, it doesn't matter 
what technology you put before you--to the students--if you don't do 
your part. You've still got to be able to read. You've still got to be 
curious enough to want to learn. You've still got to be disciplined 
enough to be willing to work. But if you get your heart and your mind 
engaged, there should be no barrier to letting you live your dreams 
tomorrow. And we're going to do our best to take the barriers down.

    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:35 a.m. in the gymnasium. In his 
remarks, he referred to Darnell Curley, teacher, and Wilma Durham and 

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Bridges, co-principals, Frank W. Ballou Senior High School; Mayor 
Anthony A. Williams of Washington, DC; Arlene Ackerman, superintendent, 
District of Columbia Public Schools; Angela Lee, director of government 
affairs for the District of Columbia, AT&T; and Julie Evans, chief 
executive officer, NetDay.