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U.N.’s digital divide – Web doesn’t help the world’s poor

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Delegates to a United Nations summit meeting on poverty expressed concern that the Internet is increasing the gap between the world’s haves and have-nots, the Agence France-Presse reported June 29.

“Eighty-eight percent of the world’s Internet users live in the industrial countries, only 0.3 percent in the poorest countries of the world,” Germany’s Economic Development and Cooperation Minister, Heide Wieczorek-Zeul, told the gathering.

This “digital divide” means not all countries have the same access to valuable technological and scientific information that could be useful in non-Internet areas, said Valentina Matvryenko, Russian deputy prime minister.

One of the obstacles to narrowing the gap is that poor countries can’t easily establish the telecommunications infrastructure needed for Internet access, according to last year’s United Nations Development Program report.

In poor countries where the Internet is available, its high cost often keeps it out of reach of all but the most wealthy. Using the Internet for an hour in Chad in 1999 cost $10.50, United Nations figures show, while the average yearly income in the country is $187.

Furthermore, the rapid expansion of e-commerce does not help the four-fifths of the world’s population who do not have credit cards.

There is a digital divide not only between rich and poor nations but within rich countries, between men and women, young and old, literate and illiterate, urban and rural dwellers and those who speak English and those who cannot. Roughly 80 percent of all web sites are in English.

The United Nations Development Program has set up financing and technical aid programs to improve Internet access in poor countries, mostly through so-called cybercafes.

No figure was available for the cost of those programs.

For full text, go to the New York Times.

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