Digital economy can foster growth and bridge divide
Although substantial progress has been made in internet expansion, more efforts are needed to bridge the digital divide among countries and regions, given that nearly half of the global population still does not have access to the internet, officials and experts said at the Fifth World Internet Conference on Thursday.
Viviane Reding, former vice-president of the European Commission, said digital technologies are becoming an integral part of everyday life for many people.
Over the past decade, Europe has substantially reduced the digital divide, but the gap remains far from being closed, said Reding, who is now a member of Luxembourg's parliament.
The remarks, made at the Ministerial Forum: Bridging the Digital Divide, a sub-forum of the WIC, came after a report from the United Nations showed that about nearly half of people on the planet still do not have internet access.
Also, massive disparities in connection speeds exist in different countries, with a gulf between the fastest and slowest. Such a gap prevents people from less-developed countries and regions from enjoying the benefits of digital advancement, the UN report added.
In the face of such challenges, officials and experts at the forum called for more efforts to build network infrastructure as well as an intensified cultural and educational push to boost digital literacy.
Zhou Shuchun, publisher and editor-in-chief of China Daily, contended that the digital economy has become an increasingly important driver for global growth and its fast pace of development in different countries and growing integration with other sectors are offering strong support to bridge the global digital gap.
"We support the idea of a globalized digital market, which is expected to further propel the recovery and prosperity of the global economy, " Zhou said.
The global digital economy is expected to hit $23 trillion in 2025, almost doubling the scale in 2017, according to the Global Connection Index report released by Chinese tech company Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.
Joseph Wakaba Mucheru, cabinet secretary of Kenya's Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology, said raising awareness of the digital divide is one of the keys to solving this problem.
Now Kenya has mobile penetration of 90.4 percent and digital broadcasting signal coverage of 83.6 percent, but challenges remain, including last mile broadband connectivity, technology dependence, and the fragmented African market, Mucheru added.
At the forum, Chinese officials also shared their experiences in expanding internet coverage, in the hope of helping rural residents enjoy a wide range of digital services such as shopping online.
Zhang Fuhai, a member of the Standing Committee of the Liaoning Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China and the province's top publicity official, said as a major industrial base in China, Liaoning province used to see slack development of its digital economy.
"But in recent years, we have striven to bridge the digital divide within the province and seize the opportunity of digitalization to boost the local economy. Specifically, we have actively developed information technologies to update our industrial enterprises and foster new growth momentum such as software development," Zhang said.
"We realize information exchange and the application of new technologies are two keys to expanding internet coverage. Also, a sound network infrastructure and pro-business environment are also needed to underpin the process," he added.
Such an intensified push to overcome the digital divide also comes as technologies are playing a strategic role in buoying growth and innovation. According to the European Commission, a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration increases GDP by 1 to 1.5 percent.
Also, boosting digital inclusion can also increase the quality of life of individuals by facilitating access to services and the economic possibilities for local businesses, ultimately improving cohesion, according to a report by the European Parliament.
Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on Media and Publicity, said the country is making accelerated efforts to reduce the digital divide, a push assisted by Chinese companies including Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.
The Nigerian government is aiming to provide fiber connectivity to all 774 local government areas of Nigeria within four years, and is working to bring down government taxes and levies associated with rolling out broadband infrastructure.
"Chinese companies like Huawei have played an important role in helping our digital push," he added. Huawei has sponsored Nigerian students' information and communication technology training in China and it has also opened a technology hub in the country.
Gabriel Lim, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Communications and Information of the Republic of Singapore, said: "The more we use digital technologies, the more we should make sure that every citizen has the knowledge and skills to seize the opportunities provided by the technologies."
According to him, Singapore is stepping up its push to transform itself into a "Smart Nation", a nation where people live meaningful and fulfilled lives, enabled by technology.
"We must turn a digital divide into a digital multiplier," Lin said, adding that Singapore is trying to provide universal digital access for each citizen, ensure lifelong digital literacy through intergenerational teaching, and encourage citizens' active digital participation in contributing ideas that could make lives better.
Also, the digital gap is not just about network infrastructure, and education is of importance to solve this problem. Wu Zhaohui, president of Zhejiang University, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said leveraging digital technologies to make education more accessible is one of the keys to closing the gap.
Different from physical classrooms, digital or online education offers a way to boost teaching productivity. Education resources can flow across borders, and different levels of educational institutions can also cooperate with each other more deeply. Technological advances will give birth to a new human-machine collaboration system in education, which will involve personalized learning and intelligent interactive teaching methods.