Federal Focus, Inc.

Children's Issue

return to speaker list




Dr. McGuire-Rivera is the Associate Administrator in the Office of Tele-communications and Information Applications in the Department of Commerce/National Telecommunications and Information Administration.


I am Bernadette McGuire-Rivera. I am from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. We are located within the U.S. Department of Commerce, and we are the executive branch agency that is charged with domestic and international federal policy development in telecommunications. We also do the management for all the federal spectrums, so when the FBI needs to get a special radio frequency when a building blows up, they come to us. We also, and this is the part I am involved in the most, have an applications grant program in which we give people funding to use telecommunications for a lot of nonprofit and public service uses. In fact, this year we have just taken up this new logo, and we have a slogan now like every other good telecommunications business. We see ourselves as, "Connecting Americans to the World of Information." We do this in a variety of ways.

Just this year, we have given out three projects in telementoring, which I wanted to talk to you all about. One of the reasons this is so important to us at Commerce is that one of the other things we have done is just completed a study called Falling Through the Net. This study looked what we have been calling the Digital Divide. There is a continuing division in this country between the "haves" and the "have-nots." This study is done by the census bureau, and for you researchers, it is sort of a baseline measurement. Answer "yes" or "no." Do you have this ability or not? This is the third year we have done the study, and I think it is important that we have this now as part of regular census collection because in this society we measure what is important. Once we have a good measurement, it is better for us to be able to track it and to understand what is going on.

The good news from this study is that Internet use and home computer use is increasing. We have found through various other studies that have done by people like Donna Hoffmann at Vanderbilt [University], and some of the work at the Tomas Rivera Center, that having a computer in your home, for children, seems to be one of the key factors in success now. If you have exposure to a computer at home, and Internet access, you will be much farther ahead than a child that does not. So, one of the good news items is that, yes, it is increasing. However, the bad news that we have found - and we have found it for the third year in a row - is that there is a wide disparity based on income. If you are in a household in which the joint income is $75,000 or higher, you are about 20 times more likely to have a computer at home than a young person who is in a household in a lower income bracket.

We find that with this income, which seems to be the most predictive variable, if you examine all the demographics of disadvantage - low income, low household education, you live in a remote rural area, or in a disadvantaged area such as the center city - you are much less likely to have access to this equipment. We find this year, too, children living in single-parent households are suffering from the same disadvantage. We find it also by ethnicity. My boss Larry Irving says there is a Digital Divide, but there is also a Racial Ravine in access to computer and Internet technology.

There is also a disadvantage by occupation. If your parents, or the other people in your household, have a white-collar job, or a job that requires them to use a computer, you as children are much more likely to have access to the computer. This is kind of common sense, and luckily most of us in this room today have sort of had this abundance. I imagine if I asked you to raise your hands, most of you have a computer at work and a computer at home. Because of this Digital Divide, and the gap seems to widen, the things we do in our Telecommunications and Information Assistance Program are very much targeted at using this very technology to try to address the gaps that it is creating.

Let me tell you a little bit about TI. Oh, this is another thing we are finding. This year for the first time we asked, "Do you use your computer anywhere other than home?" Now this data differs from the other data, and this is person data rather than household data. Sixty-seven percent do not use the computer anywhere else. We are finding that 33% are using it at any location; 17% are using it outside the home, which we find to be a good indicator that some of the efforts of community access centers, which the Department of Education will begin funding next year, and placing computers in places other than school and libraries. Schools and libraries are very important, but if you look at at-risk kids, probably the last place you would expect to find an at-risk kid at 6 or 7 o'clock at night is at school or in a library. We found that a lot of the grants that we have done with storefront centers and putting computers where young people are have been very successful. We are analyzing what happens with this 17%. We can design programs to reach them with this technology. We also have 22% of people saying they use the computer only at home.

Those of you who are researchers know, the U.S. Census calls you and you are going to give the right answer. For people who use the Internet at home, e-mail seems to be the killer application. They are using it for other information searches, news, taking courses online, educational material. They are actually doing work at home. Others are looking for another job while using the computer at home. I do not believe the "fun" category is so low, but that is what we learned on the census survey. When we went and looked again at the 17% who are only using the computer somewhere other than home, we found some pretty encouraging news. Again, a lot of people are using it for e-mail and information searching, but a lot of people are using it for work or look for a job. I think there is a social acceptability thing in there. I think when the government calls you and says, "Oh, you are unemployed. Are you using the computer to look for a job?" We were surprised that it came out that it was mostly substantive use, and that people are interested in learning about the technology and using the technology.

We have two grant programs at NTIA that are devoted to using telecommunications in ways that the government traditionally has been involved in public life. One program is the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program. This may be of less interest, but it gives funding to public television stations. Largely it has helped build public television stations for the last 35 years, and it has also helped them develop the capability to use microwave for distance learning. So, that program in the past has been involved primarily in one-way distance learning. Now the new program, the Telecommunications Information Infrastructure Assistance Program, which I hope we will get to change the name to something a little snappier. That program looks at and provides funding for demonstration projects that deal with interactive technologies. It is a new program; it has been in existence since 1994. Its purpose is to promote the widespread availability of these technologies in the information infrastructure to the nonprofit and public sector. Since the program has begun, we have given out $152 million in federal support, which has been matched by an equal number of dollars in nonfederal support. We now have 702 projects in every state of the union. They are all focused on social and public service.

We give grants in five areas:

  • Lifelong learning, which involves all types of education and culture, adult education, and a lot of nontraditional education, which I think covers the telementoring area. We do not give many grants simply to schools anymore. We started out in 1994, and we were the first people to fund putting an Internet connection into a school. At that time, that was very radical. Now most of the funding that goes directly to schools goes through the Department of Education. We will give grants, however, to organizations that have a school district as a partner. We try to focus more on bringing the community and the school together.
  • We also give grants for Public Safety, the police and getting information files together, connecting police stations.
  • Public Services. We give a lot of grants to social service agencies in cities and counties to try to bring together different databases. I know we have one project in Lane County where we have worked with a school to work with a hospital and some of the other social service areas to build a database on child abuse, so that reports filed in a school, a hospital and someplace else are on it. Once someone shows up two or three times in the database, then they can go back and look to see what has happened to the child. We try very much to work with social service agencies to do one-stop eligibility where you can come at once, register and find out all the services for which you and your family would be eligible.
  • In health, we do a lot of Telemedicine, and joint consultations. We are doing a lot now with psychological therapy online. We do a lot in the rural area, too, so you do not have to move patients around.
  • Our final category is Community Networking, which is sort of our catch-all. We started out doing a lot with the free nets, and now we will do a lot of public service, almost like an online public TV station for a community.

Our strategy in this was that we wanted to be able to demonstrate as many new ideas from the grassroots as possible, rather than having people in Washington what to do, which was not only unpopular at the time, but also did not seem to be working too well. We have an annual competition. Every year we have about 800 applications for the 43 grants we usually give away. We look for things that are significant models that can be replicated. We look at your evaluation plan, and also your documentation plan, because the people who get these grants - and I will give you our website at the end of this - make an agreement that you can call them up, get information from them. They are supposed to share this information with others. That is part of the outreach.

We just this year received the program evaluation back for TI. We were very pleased. Ninety percent of the projects we had started are still operating. We also found that each dollar had generated another $4 of nonfederal funds. That was another evidence of the sustainability of the programs. This is another reason why, if you are interested in doing some of these things, you want to call the people who are doing them because they have good sustainability plans in place. We have models that you can use for building partnerships and for overcoming some of the major barriers to providing service.

We believe this is a good strategy to take to be able to diffuse innovation throughout the country because overall, this is a rather modest sum of funds. Usually we have about $20 million to spend on the projects and their administration.

These are the major categories of barriers to access to technology, that which is causing the Digital Divide:

  • Geography,
  • Economics,
  • Physical culture,
  • Cultural,
  • Linguistic, and
  • Technological

I am not an expert on telementoring, but as I looked back at what the barriers are to mentoring, generally they are the same as these. One can use this technology to better provide this mentoring to everyone. I have three examples of projects we have funded that are using telecommunications technology for mentoring. When I think of mentoring, I think of someone who is guiding. However, usually the type of mentoring that helps people the most, and is hardest to get, there is always quite a bit that you learn too late, that you never learn in school, and that is not written in any personnel or policy manual. I think we all have experienced this. You gain this knowledge through contact with other people, through contact with your parents.

My husband is a lawyer, and his father was a bartender. He used to tell me that the biggest problem that he had in law school was competing with men and whose parents were lawyers because they already knew how to think like lawyers. He knew how to take a course in the law, but he did not know how to actually think like a lawyer.

Certain people have this made available to them. The better schools will try to bring mentoring in. If your family has the time and resources, they will try to get you mentored. People who are generally most likely to succeed will have access to good mentoring.

The three projects we have going on now are ongoing projects. They have not been formally evaluated yet, so I am just going to talk a little bit about what we are trying to do with each one of them.

The first one is to the Boston Public Schools. This is a very basic situation in which they are using off-the-shelf technology, e-mail, videoconferencing and a little bit of group software to connect the teachers and the employers who are working in a school-to-work program. Up until this time, this particular school in Boston was in an enterprise zone. It had a school-to-work program, but the only connection between the school and work was the child who left the school to go and work in the afternoon. What they did with this was try to make it easier for the teachers and the employer to work together to create a school experience that had relevance to the work experience.

They hooked up the teachers with e-mail; most of the teachers did not have this at the time. An example is that a student would work as a data-entry clerk in an insurance company in Boston. He or she would go there after school and enter data in an actuarial database. Now, in an ordinary situation, the student would go in, enter data. The student's only concern would be, "When will this be over so I can get out of here?" The teacher and employer got together and explained what this database was, taught them some basic math and basic statistics and worked out some basic lesson plans that had to do with different people in the classroom and what their after school jobs were. This was using very simple technology, basically e-mail. They also used videoconferencing so all the students could see someone else's workplace. They used this technology to put more meaning to the school-to-work experience.

The next project we funded, and this is also in Boston at the Corporation for Work and Learning. They added the Internet and a web browser, standard e-mail accounts, and got together with a company called BBN and used software this company had developed called The MentorCenterô software package. They experimented with the software package which is supposed to allow the teacher to manage a group of these experiences. While the first project worked quite well, it was difficult for a teacher to manage several of the work experiences at once. This scenario is interesting. The software was designed to handle a class of 25. They were divided into five teams and linked in with a local business that produced circuit boards. In order to develop a deeper understanding of the physics and chemistry of electroplating, they had to learn to calculate machine speeds and feed rates and process times for automated machinery, and this was all put into the standard math class. So, they worked their math class around this. They had to work on the marketing and the sales of the circuit board, so they learned forecasting, and they also learned some project management. The company was excellent; it cooperated extensively. It assigned one employee to work with each team member. The company gained some great people to work with them after school, they had help that was relevant, but also the employees that were asked to work with the kids learned how to use the software, and how to manage group projects. This was a company that was seeing themselves going international. It was a chance for the company executives to get some practice on how to use the software to manage teams in different parts of the world? How do I even use it here within our own factory? The company was benefitting more than with just the after school program.

The third mentoring project - and this is my favorite - is the Vermont Millennium Arts Project. These people are working in arts, music, visual arts and they are beginning to work in performing arts. It is very hard to get art teachers anywhere, but especially in Vermont, where you have essentially a rural atmosphere and in the winter you cannot even drive from place to place. The Arts Council decided it would use this technology to bring together Arts teachers, really good Arts teachers, via videoconferencing, e-mail, with students. The Arts teachers are not necessarily from Vermont. There have been some from New York and other areas of the country. For all of those interesting in mentoring as a profession, they are paying the Arts teachers. They have hooked up several children with the Arts teachers, the music ones in particular are using MIDI to teach composing.

All of these are on our website. There are links that will take you to these people's homepages. It will give you names and phone numbers. Also on the website we have 25 in-depth case studies of different uses of telecommunications and information in all sorts of public school, libraries, community centers. Also there are names and addresses of contacts. There is a search engine on this, too. So, if you are particularly interested in doing telementoring in a particular subject or particular area, we might not have telementoring necessarily, but with these 702 projects, we probably have something you might be interested in. We have all the success stories on the site, and other stories to give you some ideas of what to avoid, as well. [What is the web address?]

Wayne Richie is our Chief Administrative Officer. The only reason the website has anything that is worth looking at is because of him.


Joint Federal

Risk Assessment
    Toward Common

London Principles

   for Epidemiology

Endocrine Effects

Other Areas



Jazz Band





Home Mission Organization Funding Site Map Contact