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California seeks stimulus funds to close 'digital divide'

The good news is that 96 percent of California's households have access to a high-speed Internet connection.

The bad news is that despite the good news, 45 percent of California residents – a number greater than the populations of all but five states – still don't have broadband connections in their homes because of geography, disabilities, a lack of English language skills or poverty.

Now the promising news: The state is poised to grab as much as $1 billion in federal stimulus money for closing what's referred to as a "digital divide" between Internet haves and have-nots.

"The importance of closing that gap is almost incalculable," said Sunne Wright McPeak, president and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), a nonprofit underwritten by four merged phone companies to oversee one effort to expand the use of broadband.

"Whether it's health care or education or a host of other aspects of life, broadband (high-speed) access is vital to virtually every person in California."

The money that the state is poised to grab is part of $7.2 billion that was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress in February. The money was dedicated to the simple proposition that getting as many Americans as possible hooked up – at high speeds – to the Internet is a good idea.

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