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Tap Internet to More Effectively Fight Poverty in the U.S. Says Research

November 11, 2008 By

The Internet will be the catalyst for advancement of programs promoting social justice over the next decade, according to new research from Harvard Professor Elaine C. Kamarck, PhD. The research paper, titled "Transforming the Fight Against Poverty: The Internet & Anti-Poverty Strategies," addresses how the Internet has enhanced productivity in government run anti-poverty programs and bridged physical and market isolation gaps prevalent in poor populations.

"We're well aware that high-speed broadband Internet spurs economic development and improves education, health care and environmental sustainability," said Bruce Mehlman, Internet Innovation Alliance co-chair. "Dr. Kamarck's paper further illustrates the critical need for a national broadband strategy, which would help provide access to important, life-changing programs for all Americans, especially those living in poverty."

Kamarck's paper examines how various organizations have utilized the Internet to reduce the cost of government overhead and creatively improve the scope of anti-poverty programs. It also brings to life how the Internet has been used as a tool for aiding the disadvantaged -- and those who help them -- in navigating complicated bureaucracies. Key examples include:

  • A new system for verifying wages, benefits and new employment information allowed The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to reduce improper rental housing assistance payments from $3.22 billion per year in 2000 to less than $1.3 billion in 2005. The savings recognized enabled HUD to provide assistance to more than 250,000 additional households.
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare developed The Home and Community Services Information System to better track services for people with mental retardation, saving the state more than $54 million and 92,000 hours of work and improving the quality of life for the disabled by reducing the use of unnecessary restraints.
  • In 2003, The Digital Community Program launched in economically depressed Greene County, N.C., providing all 6th-12th graders with Apple iBooks. The result: test scores increased exponentially, the county saw decreases in drop-out rates and teenage pregnancies and 58 percent more seniors applied for college than before program launch.
  • Agronegocios, an online virtual market in El Salvador, enables farmers to post offers and demands themselves, allowing direct access to markets and bypassing intermediaries who charge higher rates. This program has opened up trade to a broader range of geographically diverse consumers.
  • One NGO, the Academy for Educational Development, has implemented projects in Uganda and Mozambique where health professionals are given PDAs over which they can transmit and receive data through a wireless network, allowing them to consult with medical journals and colleagues. Four years into the project in Uganda, 175 remote health facilities serving more than 1.5 million people have access to this technology.

"Poverty has gone hand in hand with social isolation," said Kamarck. "The Internet holds enormous potential to break this trend, overcoming barriers such as distance and access to high-quality health care and education. While the Internet has helped reduce poverty, the transformation has only just begun."

"This research underscores how critical broadband is to improving life and commerce in America," said Larry Irving, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance. "It also makes apparent the steps that need to be taken by government leaders to support Internet technologies, advance social justice programs and address the gaps in the adoption curve that still remain."

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