WASHINGTON (AP) _ Aiming to help children who can't afford computers, Internet giant America Online, computer maker Gateway and other groups announced a multimillion-dollar program of free systems, software and after-school tutoring on Monday.

``Technology has changed people's lives in ways in which we didn't envision,'' said Ted Waitt, chief executive officer of Gateway, a leading computer maker that is donating 50,000 units to the cause. ``It's created an era of unprecedented prosperity, but not everyone shares that prosperity. The digital divide is real.''

The program, PowerUp, will provide $10 million in seed grants, free computers, Internet connections and volunteers for more than 5,000 after-school programs for poor children. The nonprofit organization will be based in California's Silicon Valley.

Offered in schools and community centers nationwide, PowerUp activities for disadvantaged children will include computer training and software plus lesson tutoring as well as afternoon snacks, adult mentoring and supervision, organizers said at a news conference.

Waitt said computer makers recently have been able to lower the cost of units, but many families still can't afford even the least expensive system.

The PowerUp program will focus on giving children access to computers and the Internet after school, rather than at home.

Under the plan, children in grades kindergarten-through-12 will come to the centers when the school day ends for interactive learning games, using software and Web sites provided by the project's partners.

``It's nice that tens of millions of people are using the Internet; it's nice that businesses are able to grow,'' said AOL founder Steve Case. ``But we really need to build a medium we can be proud of.''

Case deflected speculation that the project was an attempt to lock up the school or educational market against other competitors, saying the PowerUp sites could be reached through browsers other than its own Netscape.

Last month, AOL and Gateway, a leading seller of made-to-order personal computers, closed a deal to market and distribute each other's products.

AOL, the world's largest Internet service provider, will give 100,000 free Internet accounts to centers that need them. Hundreds of adult volunteers, including many from the national service program AmeriCorps, will work with children in the centers _ many of which will be affiliated with the Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA, organizations that already provide after-school activities for poor children.

The Case Foundation _ a charitable organization created by Case and his wife Jean _ will give $10 million in grants to local communities to set up centers or hire staff for existing centers.

The organizers said:

_Most of the nation's Internet delivery _ 86 percent _ is concentrated in the 20 largest cities.

_Three-quarters of the households with annual incomes over $75,000 own computers; just 10 percent of the poorest families do.

_By next year, 60 percent of jobs will require skills in technology.

Terry Peterson of the Education Department called PowerUp a good example of the private sector helping school children, but he added: ``I hope in the next few days the final budget will include the after school funding we've requested.''

President Clinton wants to triple the $200 million the department gives schools and communities for after-school learning programs.

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EDITOR'S NOTE _ The PowerUp initiative Web site is www.powerup.org.