$2 billion needed to bridge digital divide


The UN should amass $2 billion to help poorer nations bridge the digital divide or risk their permanent exclusion from the Internet revolution, an expert panel has said. Though e-commerce is exploding and more than 1.5 billion Web sites exist, less than 5 per cent of the world's population is now online and catching up gets tougher every day, the committee of private experts said in a report commissioned by the UN General Assembly.

The experts were organised by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to advise him on how poor nations could join the information age, a key topic of the UN's millennium summit in September. The document is the latest in a steady stream of high-level reports urging rich countries to do more to help the developing world gain access to the Internet.

Supreme Speed: A federal judge has sided with the US government and sent Microsoft's appeal of an order breaking it up directly to the Supreme Court because a quick resolution of the landmark legal battle is of "general public importance". But Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson also gave Microsoft a victory, delaying the implementation of all the sanctions he imposed pending the appeal.

Merger Move: The European Commission has extended its investigation into the planned merger of AOL and Time Warner because of concerns about music distribution, Internet dial-up access and paid-for content. "The main competition issue raised by the merger is the vertical integration of Time Warner content with AOL online services," the Commission said. It now has until mid-October to decide whether to approve or block the $127 billion merger.

Microsoft's Net: Microsoft has unveiled what it called its most ambitious project since Windows - a dot.net software strategy it hopes will power services sent via the Net to PCs, TVs, cell phones and other devices. The company's new modus operandi will be based upon a "Triple A" strategy - Any time, Any place, Any device access to Microsoft software. The platform will not be available for three years as its successful implementation depends on improvements in bandwidth and wireless communications.

Non Your Rights: A judge in Quebec has ruled that the government can not force businesses operating there to use French-language software. The ruling raises questions about tough Quebec laws that mandate the use of French in the workplace. The court ruled that a group of French and English speaking pharmaceutical employees had the right to use English software at work, as long as the use of French was still protected.

TV Three: Toshiba, Matsushita Electric Industrial and Sony are to work together on a standard format for next-generation digital TV set-top boxes. The big three will jointly develop a standard format able to pick up signals from broadcast satellites and next-generation communications satellites, allowing the manufacturers to cut investment costs.

Accelerating e-Business: Enterprise Ireland has received 97 applications involving investment proposals totalling more than £58 million following the first call for proposals for funding under its recently established e-Business Acceleration Fund. The total funding sought is just under £14.5 million and the successful projects will be announced in August.

In Flight Entertainment: News Corp subsidiary In-Flight Network, Globalstar Telecommunications and Qualcomm are to jointly offer Internet and email services on airline flights. In-Flight said it would be able to provide low-cost, high-speed services by early next year.

Lining Up Linux: Linux seller Red Hat and Dell Computers are to expand their efforts to market the alternative operating system to Windows. The agreement calls for the creation of a One Source Alliance to offer support services for Linux users who purchased the software from Red Hat and to develop Linux-related products for Dell.

Reasoned Debate: A non-profit gun-control group in the US had its Web site defaced by a pro-gun hacker. "If you take my guns, I still have my computer. VPC just got shot in the head," the defaced Violence Policy Center site read.

In Brief...Fujitsu Siemens Computers has been awarded the £500,000 contract by DCU to supply it with 500 PCs. . . Microsoft's Windows Millennium Edition was sent to computer makers last week and will be included on new computers purchased after its launch date of September 14th. . .