Dec 9, 1999 at 12:00AM
This week, the White House launched a new service that allows Americans to send questions about policies and issues directly to participating news sites. The five most popular questions will be submitted to the Press Office and answers will be posted weekly at the various participating organizations, the first one being America Online (NYSE: AOL). Other than taking a cybertour of the White House, this is the closest most citizens will ever get to actually being heard by their Commander-in-Chief.
"We must connect all our citizens to the Internet, not just in schools and libraries but in homes, small businesses and community centers," Clinton declared, as the millennium's rallying cry of "A computer in every home!" gains prominence.
The President has announced a series of measures to close the "digital divide," the first buzz word of the approaching new millennium. According to Commerce Secretary William Daley, "Today, about 60 percent of American households lack access to computers, and roughly three-quarters of households lack Internet access. The gap between the information 'haves' and 'have-nots,' if it continues, threatens to impair the well being of our communities, the development of a skilled workforce and the economic health of our nation. Therefore, we must be sure that the benefits of the Information Age are available to all Americans."
According to a U.S. Commerce Department survey, 60% of households earning $75,000 or more had Internet access compared with less than 10 percent of households earning $20,000. It's imperative that this gap be closed, because lack of computer skills and Internet access might have serious economic consequences for future employability. In addition, lower-income families might be cut off from affordable information on education and health care.
Leading companies like Microsoft, Ameritech, 3Comm, and AOL are pitching in to help alleviate this problem by contributing money for various initiatives, including building Internet community centers and educating students. All these programs will ultimately bring more consumers online, which is a positive on all fronts for investors in rule-breaking companies.
AOL's Chairman and CEO Steve Case is in agreement with the U.S. CEO in more ways than one. "This Internet medium isn't a condiment. It's not like salt or ketchup that you can shake onto some food to liven it up. It's not even the main course. It's more like the plate. It needs to be there for just about every meal." Apparently Case's appetite for the Internet spills over into his appetite for fast food, a passion shared by our Commander-in-Chef.
But that's where Case's sharing stops. Despite wanting to see everyone connected, he refused to allow AT&T customers access to AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) software. AOL is sending a clear message that it will not go gently into that good night, it will not let go of its lead in the IM market by freely giving competitors access to its system. Microsoft already threw in the towel in a similar battle. Considering that instant messaging is one of the fastest-growing markets around, it's understandable why AOL desires to maintain its significant leadership in the area.
As the air was let out from the inflated level of this morning's market, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) continued its vault as investors suddenly realized that a surge in holiday sales will give a boost to its fourth quarter. This will become inevitable as the Internet reaches more people, and a new level of comfort is reached by consumers. Apparently no one realized this until an analyst at J.P. Morgan initiated coverage with a "buy" rating. Last week, the number of visitors to Amazon.com doubled to 6.14 million from 3.1 million a year earlier, which makes it the most popular online retail site. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Prez there shopping for a Christmas gift for Chelsea.
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I was shocked to discover that approximately three million Americans would rather shop for a burial plot than prepare their home computers for Y2K. (Especially since a massive computer crash might send someone to a premature grave.) In a survey commissioned by Rule Breaker Iomega Corp. (NYSE: IOM), Americans who have not yet prepared their home computers for Y2K fessed up a mouthful. Instead of preparing for the millennium bug, 52% would rather eat broccoli (don't tell that to George Bush!); 45% would rather clean their bathrooms; 37% would rather go the dentist; and 20% would rather sit in traffic.
I sure wish Iomega would spend their dollars more efficiently than conducting meaningless polls. Then again, I suppose a poll of Foolish investors might turn up the information that buying Iomega is comparable to shopping for a burial plot.
- Dec 9, 1999 at 12:00AM