PULLMAN, Wash. — Computers, software and high-speed Internet connections have become essential tools for profitable business operations, but access to the technologies is often limited by geography and economic factors. Washington State University is addressing the issue by establishing the Center to Bridge the Digital Divide to ensure that a wide range of small businesses and households will benefit from telecommunication technology.

“Our goal is to speed the deployment and use of digital technologies to underserved communities and enhance business opportunities and jobs in rural communities and low-income urban neighborhoods,” said William R. Gillis, the new center’s director. “The center will facilitate informed technological choices by businesses, individuals and community leaders and jump-start market deployment of digital technologies to our target audiences.”

According to Gillis, a former Washington State Public Utility Commissioner, the center also will provide policy research and assistance to businesses, individuals and governments in the use of telecommunications to create new economic opportunities and improved access to education, health care and civic participation.

“The center will facilitate training on applied e-commerce issues through WSU’s Cooperative Extension delivery network and Small Business Development Centers statewide,” Gillis said.

In addition, the center plans to launch related initiatives, including a Washington State Telework Project to strengthen and diversify the economies of rural Washington communities through telework job creation. A pilot test of high-speed Internet in at least three rural communities north of Spokane as well as a selected site in an inner city neighborhood in Seattle or Tacoma also is in the works.

Other center initiatives include creating an online reference addressing topics related to economic and business development through the use of telecommunications and information technologies and a computer literacy education program designed for rural and low-income, inner city youth in Washington state.

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