Broadband spread requires cooperation

Providing broadband connectivity to everyone in the country would be the most valuable thing the U.S. could do, but business and government have to work together to make it happen, John Chambers, president and chief executive officer of Cisco Systems Inc. said Tuesday.

Chambers spoke as the third annual Global Internet Summit 2001 got under way here as delegates from all over the world gathered to exchange ideas about the development of the Internet and to discuss topics ranging from bandwidth to security.

Chambers, a co-chairman of the summit with Virginia's Republican Governor James Gilmore, told the delegates during a morning keynote address that the combination of the Internet and education will be the equalizer that helps level the economic playing field around the world.

But as leaders promote the increased accessibility of broadband technologies to households, they must understand that the need for education is critical otherwise it will be "like building a six-lane highway to every home and then giving its occupants a bicycle."

Chambers also touched on the need for productivity gains, which can be dramatic when businesses use the Internet, and their effect on the overall quality of life. For example, a 5 percent productivity growth rate can result in living standards doubling in 15 years, he said, while a 1 percent productivity growth rate translates into a doubling of living standards in 70 years. Chambers added that any country that applies technology properly can improve its standard of living.

"Just because you were first in the Industrial Revolution does not mean you will be first in the Internet revolution," Chambers said.

The Cisco chief also encouraged the delegates to emphasize the importance of technology in the organizational structures of their governments and their agencies. There should be a top IT administrator reporting to the leader of the organization to spur the use of electronic-business-type applications that serve citizens, he said.

Speaking to reporters after Chambers' speech, Gilmore said there is interest among officials within President George W. Bush's administration in appointing a high-level technology officer who will play such a role in the U.S. government, but Bush hasn't shared any thoughts on the idea with Gilmore.

During a panel discussion that followed Chambers' keynote speech, Vinton Cerf, senior vice president of WorldCom Inc. predicted that by 2010 about 3 billion people, or about half the world's population, will have access to the Internet, up from the current estimate of 400 million.

But Cerf warned that the numbers will not grow to those heights if the business community fails to produce business models to sustain them.

"The effort to create this connectivity has to fit the investment to the local market conditions or we won't be able to sustain the penetration," Cerf said. "It's critical that we understand there has to be a sustainable business model."

Cerf was joined on the panel by representatives of Teligent Inc., Xybernaut Corp., Metromedia Fiber Network Inc. and Qualcomm Inc., who predicted that the billions of connections in the near future will be made over a variety of devices from wearable computers to personal digital assistants and over a variety of networks from wireless to digital subscriber line.

The panelists encouraged the government delegates at the conference to consider the amount of government information they have available online before they put electronic-government applications in place. They agreed lack of bandwidth is a problem and said one of the main things standing in the way of increasing bandwidth is the availability of capital to invest in bandwidth build-out projects.

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