UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and mainly African and Latin American government leaders began a summit in Tunis to try to make the Internet and modern telecoms "bridges for a better life" in poor countries.
Annan warned on Wednesday that the 170 countries and some 23,000 scheduled participants from government and industry at the World Summit on the Information Society that "for far too many people, the gains remain out of reach."
"There is a tremendous yearning, not for technology per se, but for what technology can make possible," he said at the opening ceremony, urging participants to "respond to that thirst."
"This summit must be a summit of solutions," he added.
Host Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali said: "We hope the summit will mark a truly new beginning for a just, balanced and supportive information society."
The gathering's ambition to boost economic and social development in poor countries revolves around a pledge under the UN's Millennium Development Goals to connect all the villages of the world to the Internet by 2015.
"It is striking that the 400,000 citizens of Luxembourg have more Internet access than the 800 million residents in Africa," UN Under Secretary for Communications Shashi Tharoor told reporters.
"We need to scale up what exists in Africa, in various parts of Asia. There has been remarkable progress in China and that's a reflection of the booming economy there, there's been less of that progress elsewhere," Tharoor added.
Some 800,000 "villages" predominantly in poor countries, still need to be connected in the next decade, according to the UN's International Telecommunications Union, which is organizing the summit with Tunisia.
The cost of the effort, US$ 1 billion, represents one per cent of the annual global investment in mobile telephone connections.
"These assets these bridges to a better life can be made universally affordable and accessible. We must summon the will to do it," Annan added.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Senegalese counterpart Abdoulaye Wade were due to appeal for more backing for an innovative "Digital Solidarity Fund" that has so far garnered US$6.6 million.
The fund for local IT projects with a clear social and economic benefit in poor countries aims to get part of its funding from a one per cent levy on computer and telecoms purchases by public and private sector members.
That has now been recognized in the summit a complementary means of finance.
However, rich nations believe that developing nations must also develop the business and regulatory environment in their own countries to attract private investment and some existing aid.
"The challenge to the developing world is now to make sure they have the infrastructure, rules, legal processes and the market systems to attract the investment of the technologies that we see on display at the summit," said US Assistant Secretary for Commerce Michael Gallagher.
"That's very much a message of optimism, of opportunity," he added.
Source: China Daily