The G8 summit in Genoa sought to deal with the 'digital divide' by endorsing an action plan to widen the availability of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the developing world. But the global leaders failed to vote any new funds to support the plan.
The plan, Digital Opportunities for All: Meeting the Challenge, was developed by Dotforce, a group of 60 organisations charged at last year's G8 summit in Japan with producing a strategy to encourage ICT in poor countries.
Former US president Bill Clinton was an enthusiastic supporter of extending access to ICT, and his administration was prepared to give financial support. George W Bush's administration wants the finance to come from the private sector.
The other G8 countries in turn have reduced their financial support for the project.
Despite this loss of funds, the World Bank's Kerry McNamara, a member of the Dotforce secretariat, argues that the programme must go forward: "People [in developing nations] need information on health, crops and government service issues. ICTs can get them the information they need, give them a voice and make government institutions more transparent."
In developing the ICT infrastructure, McNamara says the contingent problems are not just financial. The isolation of many poor communities poses particular challenges.
"With mobile, satellite and local loop technologies, there may be a prospect for leapfrogging the fixed line stage," he said.
McNamara cited the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which makes small loans to women to buy mobile phones, as a good example of low-cost development. The women provide people with access to the phone and make a small profit in the process.
The G8 summit was marked by protests over the inability of leading nations to respond to the demands of the developing world. McNamara defended the G8 on this issue: "Most peaceful protestors are looking for concrete action by the G8 to help the poorest. This action plan is a concrete piece of action."
The Dotforce report calls for the liberalisation of telecoms systems in developing countries to encourage investment; the encouragement of R&D in relevant technologies; and urges ICT companies to provide training.
McNamara said: "I believe companies see it as being in their long-term interest to encourage business in the developing world. But these things are easier to do when the market is up and you are flush."
Dotforce members include Hewlett-Packard, Accenture, Thomson, Siemens and Toshiba.