GT: You've been working on information superhighway initiatives in the New York Legislature to ensure urban residents have access to online services. What can such access bring to traditionally underserved populations such as rural and inner-city areas?
Vann: It brings the potential of equality, in that very often the inner-city and rural areas are both neglected. This is where you have the largest numbers of "have-nots." Rather than being at a further disadvantage, we're able to force the powers that be to combine the infrastructure and the hardware to provide the opportunity for inner-city youth and rural youth to be brought up to equality with other citizens around the state and around the world. It's very critical that we not allow the superhighway to bypass both the rural and inner-city communities.
GT: Why is it critical for everyone to be able to have access to this? What is the importance of this issue?
Vann: It has implications both in terms of education, health and quite frankly, individual initiative, entrepreneurship and small business opportunities. It's the new way, or will become the new way, of doing business.
Its employment opportunities are unlimited. It's hard to imagine communities being able to survive unless they are wired up and online. It's a necessity, not an option.
It's like a revolution and we must be a part of it. Like the Industrial Revolution. This is the new Industrial Revolution, so to speak. We'll be a part of it and grow with it or be left behind if we are not a part of it.
GT: Recently, the U.S. Commerce Department released a survey which found a disparity in the ownership of home computers. People in the suburbs own computers at a much higher rate than people living in inner cities and rural areas. What is the significance of this kind of data?
Vann: It highlights the urgency of pursuing this "equality" in opportunity. I would hope that the state Education Department and the [university] regents make it their highest priority to make computers available to every classroom without fail, and to work with a lot of the industry people to make computers available for the home so that it becomes an ongoing process to make sure they are available in the schools and then, secondarily, in the community.
When they cannot be available in the home there should be places in churches or community centers where people can make use of the computers until they can acquire one individually.
GT: Is there a substantive difference between having access through
a public library, church or other public institution vs. having it from your home?
Vann: Availability. You would want every family to have access to one, but the reality is it will take awhile to get there.
Until that time occurs, you want them available in the community within reasonable access so that they can maintain skills and be able to communicate based on their need, whether it's a school need or a career need.
I see it in stages. It should be made available at different hubs in the community as we begin to find ways to get families to have access to computers.
GT: Would you tell us about some of your proposals on these issues in the New York Legislature?
Vann: The most immediate one is the Nynex settlement case that was resolved recently. [Ed. note: the Regional Bell Operating Company is setting aside money and services in exchange for regulatory changes.]
My office was involved in it because I chair the Corporation, Authorities and Commissions Committee, which has jurisdiction over telecommunications. We participated in that settlement, as did a broad range of people including industry, before the Public Service Commission (PSC). One of things we advocated was the diffusion fund.
We finalized part