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Kofi Annan Praises Silicon Valley, Speaks Of Closing Digital Divide

In 2004, only 7% of people in the developing world were connected to the Internet, compared with 54% of people in developed countries. The United Nations' goal is to get business leaders to help change that.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined Intel Board Chairman Craig Barrett at the United Nations Wednesday to promote the spread of a digital revolution.

Barrett is chair of the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development, which was established to draw together public and private groups as well as non-government organizations to spread technology around the world. Members of the alliance are focusing on how technology can improve education, healthcare, economic development and governance.

"It's tough to get more impact than going to a school and seeing kids' eye open to the world," Barrett said in an interview after a UN press briefing Wednesday.

Barrett, who has visited up to 30 countries a year, recalled a trip to the Brazilian Amazon. After satellites were hauled in for Internet access, he watched children -- who two days earlier had never seen a PC -- surf the Internet.

"In two days, these kids' perspective on the world changes," he said. "These kids were in a remote part of Brazil, and now they can see Brazil and, more than that, they can see the world."

In 2004, seven out of 100 people in the developing world were connected to the Internet, compared with 54 out of 100 in the developed countries, according to the UN Department of Public Information.

Barrett and Annan are urging leaders from business, finance, government and the media to help change that by participating in the alliance and help increase access to technology that can realize a vision of a prosperous global information society.

In a prepared statement, Annan praised Silicon Valley for answering his call to devote more energy to meeting the needs of the poor. An ICT task force mobilized private industry to help create an e-Schools initiative, which extends technology and content to hard-to-reach places.

Annan said the alliance has the potential to expand on that work and promote development while empowering millions of people around the world. He commended the alliance's decision to focus on the special challenges facing women, youth and marginalized groups, as well as indigenous people.

In one of its first orders of business, a steering committee for the alliance endorsed the establishment new Communities of Expertise -- broadly inclusive networks relating to the four areas of focus. One of the early goals is to support African efforts to build infrastructure and add broadband connectivity. In Africa, there were 1.73 PCs and 2.61 Internet users per 100 inhabitants in 2004.

The alliance will also focus on Latin America, parts of Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Barrett said. The alliance is the latest in a series of UN-backed groups and summits aimed at closing the digital divide.

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