By BOB PASCHEN
Daily Reporter Staff Writer
The Ohio Community Computing Network thinks that to survive in the “paperless” 21st Century, all Ohioans need computer access.
But that goal is far from reached.
According to an OCCN study, Ohio has the seventh largest economy in the U.S., but ranks 32nd in number of computers per household. Less than 50 percent of Ohio families own computers. Seventy-six percent of the state’s households earning $30,000 or less don’t have a PC, and 80 percent of that number don’t use the Internet.
By contrast, 88 percent of Ohio homes that have a household income of $75,000 or more have a computer at home.
The grass-roots tech organization has pressed its philanthropic agenda all the way to Gov. Bob Taft’s desk. Per OCCN’s request, the governor announced recently that Wednesday will officially be declared “Ohio Community Technology Day”.
OCCN Executive Director Angela Stuber said that people in all income brackets and geographic regions need access to computers and the Internet.
“Our culture is changing,” she said. “It’s assumed that everyone has access to the Web. The government posts updates on the Web because it’s cheaper than mailing. That’s fine, but if you don’t have a computer that creates access issues. You get left out. You may miss things.”
Also, Stuber said that most jobs these days require at least a rudimentary understanding of computers and Web browsing.
Since lack of access to computers and the Web falls clearly along socio-economic lines, there is a systematic disenfranchisement of Ohioans at play, she said.
“Studies show that its low-income, disabled and seniors who don’t have equal access to computers in Ohio.”
And Sunny Chen, assistant to the OCCN director, said that the Ohio area with the least number of computers is the Appalachian portion of the state.
To further momentum on the issue of equal computer access, OCCN has invited community groups from throughout Ohio to convene Wednesday at the Rife Center in Columbus. Stuber said 10 Ohio lawmakers, including Jon Peterson, have also signed up to attend.
“I was floored so many wanted to show up,” Stuber said.
This marshalling of forces will bring these regional groups greater awareness of one another’s accomplishments and agendas, Stuber said. After a meet-and-greet, a form will be held, training these individuals on “how to talk to legislators”.
“When you sit someone down in front of a computer who’s never been in front of one before, like your grandma or grandpa, it’s intimidating,” she said. “There’s a fear factor. Talking to a legislator for the first time is scary – it’s like working on a computer for the first time.”
After the forum, the groups from various corners of Ohio will seek out their representatives and senators, informing the elected officials about the mission of OCCN and the importance of equal access for all Ohioans to computers. Stuber said she expects meetings with more than 30 state lawmakers.
The end-game of this strategy is to secure funding in the future, Stuber said.
-- reprinted from the Tuesday October 14, 2003 edition of The Daily Reporter