G8 endorses plan to bridge 'digital divide'

Leaders of the world's eight biggest powers endorsed an action plan on the weekend to bridge the "digital divide" between the world's richest and poorest countries.

Host nation Italy said leaders at a Group Eight summit backed a task force report on how to harness technology in the cause of development and will be seeking support from the private sector to implement the plan.

The Digital Opportunity Task Force was set up at last year's G8 summit in Okinawa, Japan.

"Even a year ago, demonstrators were burning computers on the streets of Okinawa saying that poor people need water and you can't drink a computer," Vernon Ellis, a business executive who served on the task force, told a news conference.

"In fact ... there isn't a trade-off between information and communication technologies and other development needs. These technologies can make a real difference to health, to education, to empowerment and to enterprise."

Ellis is international chairman of the consulting firm Accenture and was one of 43 members on the task force.

The plan is to help those in poor countries gain better access to information and communications technology, if not on the desert floor then perhaps at communal sites in villages, and to promote the use of these technologies in reducing poverty.

The World Bank's director of investment in digital technology in poor countries, Mohsen Khalil, said the bank invests about $US1.5 billion ($2.93 billion) annually in information infrastructure and in projects using such technology, and the new action plan could leverage more funding.

The US Government has pledged $US100 million ($195.12 million) to help implement the report.

But participants said that while money was important, the key to the report was setting up a strategy to start bridging the north-south divide.

Canada, next year's G8 chair, will work with Italy for the rest of this year and next on implementing the report, seeking private-sector volunteers to take the lead on each of nine action points.

Among these are improving connectivity and lowering costs, helping establish national Internet strategies, and deploying information technology in health care, development aid and fostering entrepreneurship.

The Group of Eight brings together the US, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Russia.

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