GENEVA, Nov 13 (AFP): Rich and poor countries are due to meet at the World Summit for the Information Society in Tunisia Wednesday to complete a two-year UN initiative to boost access to modern telecommunications and the Internet in the developing world.
About 50 heads of state or government and more than 11,000 delegates, including officials, information technology (IT) experts and business executives are due to attend the three-day meeting.
The summit is also set to be marked by a battle over the US-based corporation which governs the core technical and administrative elements that allow the Internet to function seamlessly worldwide.
The UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is organising the summit, wants to link all villages in the world to the Internet by 2015 and ensure that poor countries are not left behind by the rapid development of IT services.
More than half the world's population has never made a telephone call and five billion people do not have access to a computer, according to ITU data.
Just 3.1 per cent of Africans had access to the Internet in 2004, compared with 55.7 per cent of north Americans, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said in a report released ahead of the summit in Tunis.
The report underlined that while there had been some growth in the use of digital technology in developing countries, they had still not been able to close the gap.
China has the second largest number of Internet connections after the United States. However, just four per cent of its population has a computer.
In Brazil, 10.7 per cent are computerised but the number falls to 1.2 per cent in India.
Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade pressed ahead with a
"Digital Solidarity Fund" to finance IT projects in poor countries at the first phase of the summit in Geneva in 2003 despite Western objections.
Although the fund was finally set up three months ago, it is still being shunned by wealthy donors, and has only received funding from some developing countries, France, and some European regions or cities.
European countries and the United States are notably backing existing financial channels to boost IT development in poor countries.
The thorniest issue on the agenda at Tunis is Internet governance, amid a revolt over US control of the Internet that dates back to its origins.
Meanwhile, an innovative fund that poor countries have endorsed to help them harness the IT revolution is urging more wealthy public and corporate donors to join the venture at an international summit in Tunisia this week.
Organisers of the three month-old Digital Solidarity Fund, which has attracted a lukewarm reaction from rich governments, said they would present their first full project at the World Summit for the Information Society in Tunis Wednesday.