Asian Governments Address Digital Divide

High-level government and industry representatives from the Asia-Pacific region regard the digital divide -- the economic gap between those with access to computers, communications and the Internet, and those without -- as a pressing concern for the region.

The digital divide, along with Internet security, Internet content and the lack of suitable IT skills in the region, were among the main topics discussed at the inaugural Asian Infocomm Roundtable held here last week, according to a joint statement issued Monday by the participants.

The gap between the information "haves" and "have-nots" is widening in the region, and more affordable consumer devices and the equitable cost-sharing of Internet bandwidth between countries worldwide are possible ways to bridge this divide, according to the statement.

Addressing this problem is crucial, given the rapid increase in importance of e-commerce, which by 2004 is expected to reach $US1 trillion in the business-to-business sector and $100 billion in the business-to-consumer sector worldwide, the statement said, quoting research from Gartner Group.

The creation of services and content attractive to Asians is key to the growth of the Internet in the region, according to the roundtable participants. It is also important to enhance Asian solidarity by creating regional Internet exchanges, which will ultimately result in more affordable Internet bandwidth links. Increasing creation of local content and enabling cross-recognition of certification authorities will also facilitate more intra-Asian traffic, the statement said.

Most industry participants argued that the perception of the lack of Internet security was worse than the reality. Public education programs were suggested as a means to increase awareness in this area. The participants also stressed the need for robust security systems, which are integral to the development of e-commerce in the region, according to the statement.

The participants also discussed the increasing trend for talented Asian IT staff to seek better opportunities by migrating to other parts of the world. A possible means to overcome this brain drain is the setting up of regional bases, which would allow such talented workers to contribute to their home economies, according to the statement.

Attending the session were senior government officials from Brunei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam. Industry participation came from Taiwan's ChungHwa Telecom Co., Compaq Computer, L.M. Ericsson, Singapore's Kent Ridge Digital Labs, Motorola, Nokia, 1-Net Singapore and Pacific Internet.

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