US agency fund may bridge IT divide

A US agency has said it will set up a $400 million funding facility to help poor nations benefit from information technologies.

    Swiss soldiers doing security check at the UN Summit on Information Society in Geneva.

    Peter Watson, chairman and president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), said on the sidelines of a UN-sponsored summit in Geneva on Wednesday that the money would be used to encourage US investments in telecom and IT projects in 152 developing countries.

    The announcement came as delegates from about 175 countries, including 40 heads of state, arrived for the three-day World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which aims to help close the technology gap between rich and poor nations. 


    Participants preparing for the conference, however, failed to agree on a set of goals due to be endorsed by governments on Friday, on the establishment of a special fund to help bridge the so-called digital divide, thwarting one of the key demands of African leaders. 

    Instead, they agreed on a compromise "Digital Solidarity Agenda". 

    The head of the US delegation at the summit, Ambassador David Gross, argued the draft action plan and declaration of principles hammered out after months of talks between governments, answered many questions thrown up by technological advances.

    "We don't know who is going to run the fund, how the fund will
    be collected and whether there is any need for any new international fund"

    David Gross,
    Head of the US delegation
    at Geneva summit

    Pointing out that the US was already the largest provider of funds to assist the expansion of the so-called information society - a term used to describe modern life with its mobile phones, internet access and electronic media - Gross questioned the need for a new financing channel. 

    "We don't know who is going to run the fund, how the fund will be collected and whether there is any need for any new international fund," he told a joint news conference with Watson. 

    "We have found by directly providing for those countries that this is the most effective means in our view," he said. 

    Delegates have agreed that the question of funding would instead be put to a second phase of the global summit in Tunis, in November 2005. 



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