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Digital divide

You could call it "Modems on Elm Street."

This spring, as part of a renovation of mill row houses, the Manchester (N.H.) Neighborhood Housing Services will install computers in 40 low-income apartments. The nonprofit's director, Felix Torres, says this is about linking neighbors and "building communities in unique ways."

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It's also a modest attempt to bridge a widening gap between computer haves and have-nots. About 40 percent of all US households in 1997 had a computer, 19 percent were online. But those figures tell only part of the story.

Whites are more than twice as likely to own computers as blacks or Hispanics. And only 17 percent of households with annual incomes from $15,000 to $19,999 had computers, a US Commerce Department study shows.

Cognizant of the gap, in Oakland, Calif., city officials and IBM are working on a similar free-computer project for public housing units. In Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, Microsoft is donating computers to the GrandFamilies House (see story at right).

This a good use of public and private funds. Adults (and children) can gain proficiency in the privacy of their homes. Access to this tool can help span the technology - and the income - gap.

Even middle-class Americans can suffer from this silicon schism. Until recently, we didn't have an e-mail address at home. I can admit it, now that we're connected. Friends and relatives no longer give us those pitying looks. And my teen daughter has stopped bemoaning the collapse of her social life because "all" her friends chatted online without her.

Another plank in the bridge over the digital divide.

We're home. Tell us how we're doing. Write the Homefront, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail us at

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