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Rob Watson reports from Florence
"The digital divide"
 real 28k

Sunday, 21 November, 1999, 15:09 GMT
Clinton: Internet key to wealth
Chinese internet ad "Internet could reduce income inequality"

US President Bill Clinton has urged leaders of developed nations to encourage access to the internet, as a means of promoting growth in the world economy and fighting poverty.

He told a meeting of centre-left government leaders in the Italian city of Florence that Internet access should be as widespread as telephones.

The president said one of the greatest domestic problems facing developed countries was the "digital divide" that gave those who had computers an enormous advantage over those who did not.

"I think we should shoot for a goal within the developed countries of having internet access as complete as telephone access within a fixed number of years," he said. "It will do as much as anything else to reduce income inequality."

He also said developed countries should work to "get more cell phones and computer hook-ups out there" in poorer nations.

"The people in Africa are no different from the people in America," Mr Clinton said. "If you give people access to technology, a lot of smart people will figure out how to make a lot of money."

Internet use worldwide

The UN says industrialised countries, with only 15% of the world's population, are home to 88% of all internet users.

In Africa, which has a population of 739 million people, there are only one million internet users compared with 10.5 million in the UK.

And less than 1% of people in South Asia are online even though it is home to one-fifth of the world's population.

Clinton Mr Clinton became the first president to chat online this month
Mr Clinton was speaking to a forum on "progressive governance for the 21st century" - a daylong session on ideas for alternatives to traditional approaches to governing.

Also present were Italian Premier Massimo D'Alema, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Earlier this month, in the first-ever on-line chat discussion by a president, Mr Clinton said that making the Internet as available as telephones would "dramatically improve the economic prospects for a lot of Americans - and, I might add, a lot of people around the world".

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