Posted : 2013-10-17 16:45
Updated : 2013-10-17 16:45

Digital divide tops Seoul agenda

Participants applaud during a session of the 2013 Seoul Conference on Cyberspace at COEX in southern Seoul, Thursday, the biggest international event hosted by the government since the inauguration of the Park Geun-hye administration. / Yonhap

By Chung Min-uck

Officials from developing countries participating in the 2013 Seoul Conference on Cyberspace, Thursday, called for more international cooperation to eliminate the gap between those who have and do not have access to Internet.

"Developing countries across the world continue to struggle with the issue of the digital divide, or as I would like to coin it, the difference between the e-haves and the e-have-nots," said Julian Robinson, Jamaica's minister of science, technology, energy, and mining in a plenary session of the conference at the start of its two-day run.

"It is imperative that we continue to cooperate at the regional and international levels with a view to reducing its impact on the prosperity of our citizens and our economies."

The digital divide is one of the issues presented by Korea as a critical problem in cyberspace. Discussions at previous conferences were centered on the viewpoint of advanced information and communication technology (ICT) countries.

To address this, Seoul had invited more people from developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Other participants from developing ICT countries echoed the Jamaican minister's view.

"ICT reduces the gap in the economy but also people and ideas globally and locally," said Boviengkham Vongdara, Laotian minister of science and technology and another speaker at the session. "Laos is critical and seeks to bridge the divide as it recognizes ICT as an increasingly crucial tool for achieving socioeconomic development."

According to a data presented in the session, the number of online users in developing countries doubled between 2007 and 2012 but there is still a huge divide in access to the Internet with only 20 percent of households online. In comparison, 70 percent of households in developed countries have access to Internet.

Suggestions were made regarding how to tackle the problem.

"It remains with respect to the ability of some countries to respond to cyber incidents and threats," said the Jamaican minister while acknowledging that there has been some progress in narrowing the divide due to efforts of the global community. "Concerning computer incident response teams (CIRTs), today there are over 18 CIRTs within the region. However, of that amount, only two are in the Caribbean, which comprises over a third of the countries in the Americas."

"States should take steps toward helping their citizens to get online," said Hesham El Alaily, executive president of the National Telecom Regulatory Authority of Egypt. "Projects developing content are a must to reach the ultimate goal."

China opposes western unilateralism

Meanwhile, China, home to the largest community of Internet users ― 500 million people ― opposed unilateralism allegedly sought by advanced ICT countries from the West when discussing cyberspace issues.

"The Internet must not be allowed to become a tool for promoting cultural hegemony, protecting cultural colonialism, or smearing other countries' political systems," said Huang Huikang, a legal advisor at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "Every country is a stakeholder in the international regulation of cyberspace and, therefore, entitled to participating in international Internet governance … Only institutions enjoying full mandates from the international community can manage the Internet on its behalf and do so in a fair, inclusive, and transparent way."

"The United Nations is, for the time being, in the best position to undertake this responsibility," Huang added.

Standpoints on issues between advanced ICT countries such as the United States and United Kingdom, and developing countries represented by China and Russia differ due to their opposing views on the degree of freedom that can be enjoyed by users in cyberspace.

The latter group emphasizes state sovereignty and rule of law in the cyberspace, whereas, the former stresses less government regulation.

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