ONE way to ensure that ``Information Superhighway'' roads won't bypass minorities is to organize private and public schools nationwide to share resources and facilities, experts say.
In Washington, the business, government, and education communities are joining forces to do just that.
They're working to set up a national nonprofit organization, the Community Learning and Information Network (CLIN) to build around-the-clock learning centers in both poor and affluent communities throughout the United States.
``Given a broad enough framework of shared resources through CLIN, the poor kids in Anacostia and Harlem and Watts can have access to the very same educational facilities in Potomac, Central Park South, and Beverly Hills,'' says Jeffrey Joseph, vice president for domestic policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce and vice chairman of CLIN.
Each CLIN center will have two rooms - one equipped with personal computers through which students and teachers can access on-line services, such as INTERNET. A televideo classroom would permit face-to-face long-distance communication.
But critics point out that it will take many years and vast amounts of money before CLIN can be realized, thereby still placing universal access out of the reach of poor students.
So far, CLIN has set up a prototype classroom in Washington and will soon establish a northern Virginia hub that will bring CLIN technologies to area high schools.
These activities, which cost approximately $10 million, were funded by private sources and grants from the Defense Department's Advance Research Projects Agency.
During the next three years, CLIN intends to set up and integrate 20 sites in each of the 50 states.
This phase is estimated to cost almost $1 billion, 30 percent of which will be funded by federal matching grants.
Additional funding should be quick in coming as CLIN's program takes off, Mr. Joseph says.
``By leveraging community assets, such as schools, as around-the-clock revenue-generating learning centers, we guarantee that the private sector will find appropriate returns on its investment,'' he said.
However, educators are wary. They say most teachers and students are still trying to catch up with existing technologies.
They also are wondering who will provide the education and training necessary to use services available on-line.
``Until these details are ironed out, I don't have much faith in CLIN or the administration's promise for universal access,'' said one Washington high school teacher.
``When I see talk turn into action, I'll believe it,'' the teacher adds.