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McCain Discusses Digital and Wireless Network Technology Act of 2003

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I begin by congratulating Senator Allen for his very important work on this legislation. Senator Allen has long been an advocate of equal opportunity, but he has also displayed a great deal of expertise and knowledge on a number of high-tech issues. As a member of the Commerce Committee, he has continuously displayed that leadership and worked actively, particularly on telecommunications and high-tech issues. So I commend him for his leadership and his commitment to this important legislation. He had a lot of help, but the fact is that Senator Allen was the leader in this legislation, and I thank him for his outstanding work. This legislation could provide an opportunity for those who would never have an opportunity in America to grow and to prosper and to take advantage of incredible opportunities that this legislation provides.

The Digital and Wireless Network Technology Act of 2003 would establish a $250 million per year program within the National Science Foundation for fiscal years 2004 to 2008. The purpose of the grant program is to help strengthen the ability of minority-serving institutions, which includes Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and tribal colleges and universities, to provide educational instructions through digital and wireless network technologies.

As we look at the scenes of the war in Iraq, we are amazed at the technological capabilities of our Armed Forces. They are able to do things that we simply were not available to do just a few years ago. Nevertheless, this superiority must be supplied with a constant supply of new technologies, which are the result of the Nation's investment in a research and development infrastructure.

During these times of economic slowdown and global threat, it is imperative that our Nation's institutions of higher education are prepared to produce a technologically advanced workforce. As the demographics of the Nation become more and more diverse, minority institutions of higher education take on an even greater importance. It is estimated that in 10 years, minorities will comprise 40 percent of the college-age Americans, the pool from which the Nation's future engineers and scientist will emerge.

Rita Colwell, Director of the National Science Foundation, stated in a letter earlier this year to new members of Congress that, ". . . American science and technology is failing to tap a vast pool of talent among our women and ethnic minorities." In an effort to enable the Nation to tap this underutilized pool of future engineers and scientists, it is essentially to provide assistance to minority institutions. The hundreds of MSI's should be provided with the resources to ensure that we are indeed utilizing their large student populations.

The legislation before us is not the result of any special interest groups or highly financed lobbying efforts. It is based upon data provided by 80 of the 118 HBCUs in a study entitled, "HBCU Technology Assessment Study," funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce and conducted by a national black college association and a minority business.

The study assessed the computing resources, networking, and connectivity of HBCUs and other institutions that provide educational services to predominately African-American populations.

The study concluded that [During this era of continuous innovation and change, continual upgrading of networking and connectivity systems is critical if HBCUs are to continue to cross the digital divide and not fall victim to it. Failure to do this may result in what is a manageable digital divide today, evolving into an unmanageable digital gulf tomorrow. Based upon testimony provided during the February hearing held by the Commerce Committee, we concluded that the findings from the study also would apply to Hispanic-serving institutions, and tribal colleges and universities.

This legislation builds upon the work begun by Senator Cleland and many others during the last Congress. In testimony before the Commerce Committee last year, the President of the United Negro College Fund, Congressman William Gray, stated that we can ill afford to promote college graduates who enter the workforce without mastering the basic computer skills and understanding how information technology applies to their work or profession.

This point was further illuminated by the Dr. Marie McDemmond, President of Norfolk State University, when she testified at the Commerce Committee's February hearing that over 175,000 foreign nationals have come to our country in efforts to fill quality, high paying jobs in science and technology, mainly because our own workforce does not possess the skills and training necessary to fill these essential jobs.

At the same hearing, other college presidents from the Nation's HBCU's Hispanic-serving institutions and Native-American schools also testified about the daunting task of building their technology infrastructure. While these problems apply to all of our Nation's universities, they are more severe at many of our minority-serving institutions. Within the State of Arizona, for example, many of the tribal colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions are facing daily technical challenges of the new millennium. They struggle, as do many other institutions, to keep up with an ever-changing networking technology environment.

I again thank Senator Allen for his leadership on this important issue. I think he had it right when he said this bill is about closing an economic opportunity divide. In this case, it is a divide that exists primarily because of the difference in the educational base of our citizens which affects economic opportunities.

I especially thank Senator Allen for including the Hispanic and tribal institutions in this legislation. I remind my friend from Virginia that in my State of Arizona, one of the poorest areas of our Nation exists in northern Arizona on the Navajo Reservation, the largest Indian reservation by far in America. These Native Americans have been left behind, as well as have African Americans and Hispanics. I thank the Senator for including especially our Native Americans but also our Hispanic populations and institutions in this legislation.

Again, I congratulate him for his commitment in this time of economic difficulties and perhaps less opportunities, and because of that, he is making, I believe, a significant step forward.

I yield the floor.

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