G8 Announces Digital Divide Task Force

Under increasing fire from critics, the Group of Eight nations said it will appoint a special task force to make recommendations on how to help poor nations bridge the growing global divide in Information Technology (IT).

The task force will suggest ways to support the development of a communications infrastructure that most developing nations badly need, G8 leaders said at the close of this weekend’s summit in Okinawa.

The “Digital Opportunity Task Force” (DOT) will report its findings at next year’s summit.

Much Talk, Little Action

The so-called “digital divide” has been an international topic of debate for years, though little action has been taken, nor funds provided, to address the problem.

This year’s summit produced an information technology charter that acknowledges the magnitude of the problem and underscores the G8’s commitment to closing the gap. “The challenge of bridging the international information and knowledge divide cannot, however, be underestimated,” a G8 statement said.

More than 90 percent of all Internet servers worldwide are in developed countries. New York, for example, has more Internet servers than the whole of Africa.

Annan Criticizes Summit

Most analysts agree that poorer countries will not be able to pay for the necessary communications infrastructure until the G8-sanctioned debt relief program reaches more countries. The program has stalled badly, prompting criticism from defenders of the world’s poor.

“For four years we have had too many promises and too little action,” United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement. “I recognize there are no simple solutions to debt relief. But, where there is agreement in principle that debt relief is essential, and when delays have a profoundly negative impact on the lives of poor people, clearly more must be done.”

Though U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the summit, the leaders refused to ease the strict eligibility requirements for debt relief. “So far this summit has amounted to an $800 million (US$) extravaganza for the world’s most powerful men and nothing new for the world’s poor,” said Henry Northover of Catholic aid group CAFOD.

Input from Private Sector

This year’s G8 summit did mark the first time such an international body has asked for advice and recommendations from the private IT sector.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, the host of this year’s summit, asked for private input on how to close the growing gap, though he balked at committing finances. Also, Russian President Vladimir Putin got the leaders to agree to exchange e-mail.

Calls for a “G3”

Critics of the G8 summits charge that the high-profile meetings have become too politicized, unwieldy and inefficient. As summits have attracted increased publicity, world leaders have become increasingly cautious about implementing real action.

In addition, the number of global issues the summits have dealt with has increased. Some have called for a “G3” summit, involving only the United States, the European Union and Japan. Such a gathering would be “much more effective,” according to Fred Bergsten, director of the Institute for International Economics.

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