U.N. Courts Silicon Valley To Close The Digital Divide

Intel spearheads efforts to reach out to businesses, academia, and the venture capital industry to help build up developing countries on three continents.

If the world is to bridge the so-called digital divide, it must be based on a partnership between governments and industry, a coalition of U.N. organizations and Silicon Valley groups discussed this week.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged activists and government and corporate leaders to leverage information and communications technologies to help combat poverty and meet other broad human objectives.

In a message to the Strategy Council of the U.N. Global Alliance for ICT and Development (U.N. GAID), Ban seemed to continue the direction of his predecessor Kofi Annan by saying governments, civilians, private companies, and academics could work together to "turn the digital divide into digital opportunity." He said that could be done by promoting new business models, public policies, and technology solutions.

The series of meetings, chaired by Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel and the global alliance, took place at Intel headquarters Tuesday and at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley on Wednesday. The summit follows similar meetings in Kuala Lumpur and New York last year.

Barrett, who has traveled to remote parts of 10 developing countries as part of his efforts to understand the digital divide, talked about deployment of broadband in Africa and expansion of multitasking telecenters in developing countries.

As the group prepared to meet with Silicon Valley leaders to advance the dialogue Wednesday, Barrett indicated a belief that the plans and discussions must move forward.

"The U.N. has realized that technology companies have the wherewithal and the technology knowledge more than the U.S. or local governments do," Barrett said in a podcast about the meeting Tuesday. "Everybody brings to the game that which they do best and the result if anyone tried to do it themselves."

U.N. GAID executive director Sarbuland Khan also noted that in the information and communication field, the melding of markets and social responsibility is bringing to life new approaches to age-old problems like poverty, disease, hunger, and illiteracy in remote villages in areas such as Brazil, China, India, Africa, and Egypt.

Individually, Intel has invested millions to bolster developing countries. The chipmaker's World Ahead Program aims to extend access to PCs with high-speed Internet connections to the next billion people. As part of this effort, Intel is working with governments in 60 countries on financing programs to make PCs more affordable.

The company is also working with education ministries in 40 countries to train 9 million more teachers by 2011 to apply technology to improve learning -- with the possibility of reaching a billion students.

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