CHICAGO -- The comment evokes a pause, then nervous laughter in a bar packed with Internet junkies, fledgling dot-commers and venture capitalists.
''The problem with the Internet community is that there are ... too many white guys in the room,'' says Andrew ''Flip'' Filipowski, himself a white guy and CEO of an Internet start-up called divine interVentures.
That same night in another overflowing room -- this one a church sanctuary -- the son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has the high-tech boom on his mind, too.
''I'm here to tell you that not all of God's children are sharing in that prosperity,'' Martin Luther King III says. There are no pauses in this room, only loud applause.
It's called the ''digital divide'' -- the idea that technology is widening the chasm between the haves and have-nots. High-tech companies from Microsoft Corp. to 3Com Corp. are quick to give examples of what they're doing to help close it and start filling an estimated 850,000 vacant high-tech jobs nationwide.
But defining who is most affected -- and even deciding what to do about the so-called digital divide -- are matters of great debate.
While government surveys have show it to be a ''racial ravine'' between whites and minorities, academics and industry analysts say Internet access is much more closely tied to income and education than race.
''The digital divide is just as much about poor, rural whites as it is African-Americans,'' says Charles Ellison, co-founder of a new Web site, http://www.politicallyblack.com.
A survey done in January by Forrester Research, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., found that Asian-American and Hispanic households outpaced white -- 69 percent, 47 percent and 43 percent respectively -- in terms of having Internet access at home, work or school.
A third of black households had some sort of access -- but surveyors also found that blacks were getting connected at a rate faster than any other group.
No matter how the digital divide is defined, the government's tactic for tackling it remains the same -- get computers in schools.
Since 1996, Congress has spent $5 billion on efforts to get public schools and libraries the wiring they need to be computer-ready. But that hardly means every kid has computer access.
''In the poorer communities, the wires are often left dangling in the walls,'' says Michael Kaufman, who heads Tequity, an organization that is helping install computer lab schools
In the long run, some experts say it will take another $20 billion in government funding to get computers in schools and teachers trained.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.