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U.N. Forum Delegates Focus on Technology
YahooJun 17 2004original
Posted by giovaJun 17 2004 - 13:20
SAO PAULO, Brazil - As a weeklong U.N. trade and development forum wound down, delegates said Thursday that the technology gap between poor and rich countries remains a major impediment to easing world poverty.
"Even the academic literature on information technology suggests that it is only applicable to industrially developed countries," said President-elect Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic. "We have to change that."

While countries like Brazil have made huge strides in providing free Internet access to the poor, many other nations don't have money to do so or have such shoddy telecommunications systems that technology advances seem like an unattainable dream.

"The name of the game is access, access, access," Juan Carlos Solines, director of Ecuador's digital government project, told delegates at the United Nations (news - web sites) Conference on Trade and Development.

Funding is the biggest problem, Solines said. Governments can't pay for technology infrastructure improvements when they already struggling to fix crumbling roads and bridges or provide modest social assistance programs aimed at feeding their populations, or giving basic health care services.

But governments and aid groups need to realize that they should work in tandem to channel more money to projects aimed at boosting technology in poor countries. Without advances in technology in developing countries, rich countries where almost everyone has a computer and Internet access will continue their domination of world trade.

"No one must be left behind. Every community must be included, even the most remote Amazon village," Solines said.

The conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil's hub of industry and finance, has brought together leaders of mainly Latin American countries, plus trade ministers and development officials from around the world. It ends Friday.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Rubens Ricupero said there is no reason why developing countries can't harness technology, noting that 98 percent of Brazil's 100 million voters in 2002 used electronic voting machines that made it possible to complete the vote count in 24 hours with no reported incidents of fraud.

"The digital revolution is as important historically as the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the 15th century," Ricupero said.

In Sao Paulo, tens of thousands of Brazilians also regularly visit 86 "Telecentro" computer centers. All the centers' computers use free open-source software, and the Telecentros cater to working class Brazilians without the means to buy computers. They learn for free how to send e-mail, write resumes and cruise the Web.

Still, only 10 percent of Brazil's 178 million people have a computer at home. As a result, Brazil's government is promoting the use of open-source software in government and the private sector.

Top government officials say Brazil simply can't afford to pay software licensing fees to companies like Microsoft when applications that run on the open-source Linux (news - web sites) operating system are much cheaper.

Many forum events over the last week focused on how poor countries can get better access to the markets of their richer counterparts, but Ricupero said the elimination of a digital divide is even more important than reducing global trade barriers.

"Among all the factors that can contribute to the competitiveness of developing countries, I can think of none more important than information technologies," he said.

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