MIC Pushes Efforts to Tame Widening Digital Divide

Article excerpt

The government will grapple with the digital divide issue resulting from the gap between the Internet haves and have-nots, the Ministry of Information and Communication said.

In a recent meeting of nine ministers presided by President Kim Dae-jung, the chief policymakers said a set of measures are underway to help the ``digitally underprivileged'' to gain more access to the Internet.

Under the plan, high-speed Internet network, local information centers and PC circulation will be strengthened systematically for those who are left behind in the Internet revolution which is sweeping the globe.

The state-initiated computer and Internet educations will reach 2 million housewives, up from 1 million from the previous plan, while other information classes will be offered to local residents, handicapped people and senior citizens.

Signaling a digital fever in the educational sector, computer education classes will be mandatory for primary school students from next year.

The measure came as the accelerating digitalization in recent years is widely perceived to be increasing the gap among Internet users.

Those who notice and utilize the potential of the Internet are benefiting from the lower prices and faster information transfer, while the laggards are perplexed by the rapid changes brought on by dot-com companies.

Since the digital divide is stemming from the distorted accessibility of the Internet and online resources, the government plans to provide a high-speed online connection to 196 small towns and local areas by the end of the year.

As for remote areas -- including islands -- Internet plazas will be installed at postal offices, town halls and local libraries.

About 50,000 students from the low-income bracket will be provided with PCs and Internet subscription coupons for five years for free. To promote the supply of PCs across the nation, the government will also provide a tax break for companies which donate PCs.

To help the handicapped use PCs more conveniently, a new hardware design, voice recognition technology, automatic caption and screen keyboards will be developed, the ministry said.

In addition, websites will be established to help farmers and the handicapped to use a wide array of information concerning industry resources and digital contents.

As e-commerce eliminates the middlemen while pulling down cost, old-fashioned offline distributors are feeling threatened, the ministry noted, adding strategic alliances and joint cyber malls supported by the government will help resolve the issue.

Military servicemen who are scheduled to be discharged within a couple of months, will be taught how to surf the Internet and a formal license testing for experienced Web surfers will be held starting this month.

Meantime, the ministry is focusing on jumpstarting the fledgling digital economy which is expanding at a dizzy pace.

For that purpose, the ministry said it will inject 50 billion won into the digital content business and lay a foundation for the industry at large.

The ministry said the demand for digital content is growing at a breakneck pace as high-speed Internet services are widely available and offline media are converging on the Net. …