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AT&T reaches out to low-income homes
Grant program offers Internet, computers to 50,000 families

By Eric Benderoff
Tribune staff reporter

June 15, 2006

Chicago will be among the first cities in the country to be part of a $100 million grant providing low-income residents with computers and Internet access in their homes.

In a program announced Wednesday, the AT&T Foundation, the philanthropic arm of AT&T Inc., will donate the money during the next three years to help 50,000 families get access to high-speed Internet connections and new computing gear. It's the largest grant of its type yet made.

"We're looking for families that already have an interest in technology, that very likely have children with Internet-based assignments in schools and with parents that are aware of how the Internet will help them with job searches," said Laura Sanford, president of the AT&T Foundation.

About 500 Chicago families will be the first to participate in the national program, Sanford said. Those who qualify will receive two years of free high-speed Internet access and affordable computers if needed. She said one goal is to have the Chicago-area families connected by the end of the year.

AT&T Chief Executive Edward Whitacre announced the grant Wednesday during a speech at a Rainbow/PUSH Coalition event in Chicago.

One Economy Corp., a nonprofit group that specializes in implementing tech initiatives for low-income residents, and Habitat for Humanity are participating in the program.

"Our job is to manage the grant," said Rey Ramsey, One Economy's chief executive. "We are responsible to make sure there are outcomes. We want these families to become part of the digital economy, to be comfortable using technology to help their children or to help them with health-care issues, for example.

"It's not just getting an Internet connection, it's providing a connection that will bring a rich experience online that will help you in the future," he said.

One Economy and Habitat for Humanity will work with local social agencies to identify families that qualify for the program. That process is getting under way, Ramsey said.

Both Ramsey and AT&T called this the largest grant ever to help low-income residents put technology into their homes.

"We don't want this to be like programs that put computers in schools before the schools were ready for them," Sanford said. "The in-home market is an audience we really want to target."

AT&T has already invested roughly $83 million on low-income tech initiatives, but that money was deployed to update technology community centers, job-training programs and libraries.

Wednesday's grant "will help us take our technology outreach program a step further," Sanford said.

Besides high-speed Internet access, families will receive a PC, printer and desktop software as needed. Families already affiliated with Habitat for Humanity will get that equipment for free while other families will have access to technology packages at a low cost.


Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune