A Won Per E-mail for Development?How many pieces of e-mail do we 6 billion people on the globe exchange in one day? If International Data Corporation, a leading IT consulting firm, is correct, we exchange 10 billion pieces every day. Despite the fact that about 30 percent of those e-mail were spam-electronic junk mail-the average person on earth sends or receives more than one piece of e-mail daily.
Considering that 80 percent of the world''s population has never even heard a telephone''s dial tone, the statistics on e-mail give me a feeling of unreality and emptiness. There are 14 million telephone lines throughout the entire continent of Africa, where 740 million people live. Manhattan and Tokyo use a similar numbers of lines, perhaps more. The total number of Internet users in Africa is only one sixteenth of the users in Korea. Furthermore, although industrial countries account for 15 percent of the world''s population, 88 percent of Internet users live in those countries. South Asia is home to 20 percent of the world''s population, but only one percent of those persons have access to the Internet. On the other hand, 50 percent of the U.S. population uses the Internet as a part of their daily lives. Four of every five Web pages are in English, but English is spoken by only 10 percent of the world''s population.
Such statistics raise concern about the so-called "digital divide" which is emerging as a new factor in perpetuating inequality in the information age. Those with no or limited access to the Internet will increasingly be deprived of information and economic opportunnities worldwide.
At the G-8 summit meeting in July, leaders of the world''s largest industrial economies adopted the Okinawa Charter on the Global Information Society, which echoed the theme of bringing to poor countries the infrastructure necessary for them to participate in the global information technology revolution. At the third Asia-Europe Meeting in Seoul this weekend, the participants are expected to include a message to that effect in the chairman''s communique.
The United Nations Development Programme once proposed to support the transfer of information technology to developing countries by imposing a small tax on e-mail. If the governments of the world charged a tax of one won for each piece of e-mail, the funds raised would be 10 billion won ($9 million) per day, 3.6 trillion won in a year. If the word "tax" bothers you, call it a service charge for exchanging e-mail. We can never overcome the digital divide with a parade of empty and hollow words. It is now time for a real action, not just words.
by Bae Myong-bok