Technology will help ease digital divide

Published September 12th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Technological progress, which will allow for greater access to the Internet, will be the driving force in reducing the so-called "digital divide," according to Microsoft's Bill Gates and other pillars of the New Economy. 


Development of the Internet in developed nations has raised fears in some quarters of a new discrimination, between those who are on-line and those who are not, particularly in poor countries. 

This was a theme seized upon by members of the Group of Eight (G8) major powers during their July summit in Okinawa, Japan. 


But leaders of the New Economy attending the Asia-Pacific economic summit in Melbourne of the World Economic Forum (WEF) argued on Monday that fears of a "digital divide" were misplaced. 

The rapid pace of technological change -- be it fiber optics or cellular telephony or broad-band -- will accelerate the worldwide expansion of the Internet well beyond the current 300 million users, concentrated mainly in rich nations, they said. 


"Currently there are 300 millions users on the Internet, 50 percent of them in the US," said Masayoshi Son, president and founder of the Japanese group Softbank. 


"In 2003, there will be one billion," he told participants in the WEF meet. "Can half of them be Americans? 

"The answer obviously is no," he said, predicting that about half the number of total Internet users will be in Asia. 

Ziggy Switkoswki, director-general of Australian telecommunications giant Telstra Corp, said wireless technology will give an unprecedented number of people access to telephones. 


"In Australia last year, we had a good year," he said. "We added two million customers. China is adding 2.5 million mobile phone users every month and it's growing." 

With 60 million mobile phones, China has already passed Japan and is rapidly closing in on the United States. 

Microsoft founder Bill Gates said technological progress, far from slowing, will continue to "create miracles" and help reduce the divide between the haves and the have-nots. 


"Some people say that information technology will widen the gap," he said. "I say: 'Absolutely not!'" 

For developing countries, the challenge of keeping pace with the technological revolution "is like the literacy challenge," he said. 


"In the future, the level of primary education will be the most important criteria because all those skills will be available on the Internet," he said. 

In other words, it will be up to governments to ensure their citizens can read and write and the Internet will take care of the rest. 


Gates said new applications such as voice recognition would change both the telephone and the personal computer. "The phone will acquire a screen and the PC will acquire a microphone," he said. 

Gates also predicted that while improved software has allowed the Internet to expand into languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Arabic, the end of domination by English is not yet in sight. 

"The Holy Grail is the high quality translation machine but in the coming ten years, nobody can predict when it will become available," he said. 


Several participants pointed out that the fruits of communications technology will become available to more people as costs drop. 

"This is an industry that has largely declining costs," said Eric Schmidt director-general of software firm Novell. 

Said Softbank's Son: "The cost of one meter of fiber optic cable is less than the cost of one meter of noodles and people eat a lot of noodles every year."— (AFP) 


© Agence France Presse 2000 




© 2000 Mena Report (

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