For many reasons—an improving economy, avian flu anxiety, the war in Iraq—the issue of the digital divide has, unfortunately, been placed on the back burner. But that doesn’t mean it has gone away. The numbers speak for themselves.
According to a presentation given by Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini, of the 15 percent of the world’s population that has access to the Internet, less than 5 percent have broadband. Of the fortunate 800 million people in the world who earn more than $25,000 a year, 70 percent have PCs. But of the 4.7 billion people who earn between $1,000 and $25,000 annually, only 10 percent have PCs. And of the 1 billion who earn less than $1,000 a year, almost none have a computer.
That’s why it is so refreshing (not to mention surprising) to find that two rivals, AMD and Intel, are now competing to address this issue, each in its own way.
AMD’s 50×15 initiative is intended to build alliances to enable affordable Internet access and computing capability for 50 percent of the world’s population by the year 2015. In tandem with this announcement, AMD has launched the Personal Internet Connection, or PIC, which the company describes as “a new category of affordable consumer devices designed to provide managed Internet access…to enhance communications, entertainment and education opportunities.”
Not to be outdone, Intel has launched its own initiative, the World Ahead Program (www.intel.com/intel/worldahead). Its five-year goals are to extend wireless broadband PC access to the world’s next billion users while training 10 million more teachers on the effective use of technology in education, with the possibility of reaching another 1 billion students. Intel has committed $1 billion to this program over the next five years.
I don’t know if this is an exercise in one-upmanship between AMD and Intel. Truthfully, who cares? The bottom line is that hopefully, in the near future, a greater percentage of the world’s population will be able to have its voice heard. And that’s a good thing. Because if this issue is not resolved, and soon, the consequences will be devastating for people and nations on both sides of the divide.
That is why it was so welcome to hear AMD CEO Hector Ruiz say at the World Congress IT 2006 that, “IT has a brain. Now it’s time to show it has a heart.” Those are sentiments that should be shared—and put into practice—by the whole IT community.