One feature of the project is to channel private sector know-how to the developing world. So far, U.S. companies, including America Online, Cisco Systems, Intel Corp. and Microsoft, have said they'll offer training programs in developing nations.
What's in it for them? For one thing, "market development," says Alan Larson, under secretary for economic, business and agricultural affairs with the U.S. State Department. "Ninety percent of the world's consumers live outside the United States. A lot of changes over the next 50 years will come from the rest of the world catching up to the developed world. The action may be in countries that are developing."
Larson notes that these contributions won't produce widespread economic improvements without other investments in basic education and health care. But he thinks technology can help there too. "We stress opportunities to use the Internet for initiatives like distance learning," he says. "I've lived seven years in developing countries, so I don't come to this with naivete about how difficult it will be to make the Internet accessible to remote villagers. But I don't think it's impossible, and I do think it's important."