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Commerce Sec. Mineta Remarks to APEC CEO Summit

Commerce Secretary Mineta Remarks to APEC CEO Summit

(Urges businesses, governments to work on Digital Inclusion) (1460)

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Norman Mineta urged business leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Brunei November 14 to help develop public-private sector partnerships focused on "expanding the circle of digital opportunity for the peoples of Asia and the Pacific."

Following is the text of Mineta's remarks, as prepared for delivery:

(begin text)

Remarks by

The Honorable Norman Y. Mineta, Secretary

United States Department of Commerce

to the APEC CEO Summit

Brunei

November 14, 2000

(as prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon. Thank you for that generous welcome. And thank you very, very much for this opportunity to address such a distinguished gathering of business leaders. I am impressed with the talent, energy, and influence I see in this room. And I am well aware that to the extent the economies of APEC are prospering, the leaders in this room and the companies you represent are a large part of the reason.

As some of you know, I am attending my first APEC meeting, and I've had a wonderful time this week working with my ministerial counterparts to strengthen the ties of friendship, commerce, and mutual interest that bind together the nations and economies of this large and dynamic region. As the first Asian American to represent my country in this capacity, I am excited by the opportunities I see here to improve trans-Pacific relations and build prosperity through the APEC framework.

Today I've been asked to talk about the subject of Digital Inclusion and the importance of expanding the circle of digital opportunity for the peoples of Asia and the Pacific.

In the United States, when we talk about Digital Inclusion, we chiefly mean our efforts to bridge the gap between individuals or groups -- ethnic minorities, the elderly, people with disabilities, those who live in rural areas, and so forth -- who are in danger of being excluded from the Information Age economy.

In APEC, the term Digital Inclusion has a wider application. In addition to individual people, it also refers to the importance of making computer technology available across individual economies, so that all APEC members, advanced and developing alike, can reap the benefit of globalization and the New Economy.

And here also, when we talk about the importance of fostering digital equality, we're referring to the capability of businesses -- especially small and medium-sized enterprises -- to employ technological skills and resources they need to complete and more fully participate in the global economy.

So Digital Inclusion not only advances the good of society, but the bottom line interests of business.

Alternatively, failure to address the problem of digital equality could have grim implications for individual companies. Because if we are to believe business leaders like Intel Corporation's Andy Grove, in five years a company will either be an Internet company -- or it won't be in business at all. That should give all of us pause for thought.

Whether in the US or in APEC, however, it's clear that the tremendous changes being wrought by information technology in all areas of activity, from government to business, from education to entertainment, require a sustained commitment to the goal of Digital Inclusion, however broadly or narrowly defined. As government and business leaders, this is an obligation that we all share.

How do we achieve Digital Inclusion? First, by building the physical infrastructure. Second, by developing the human capabilities necessary to take advantage of information technologies. Progress on both of these fronts requires government and the private sector acting independently and in partnership with each other.

It's clear that infrastructure is a high priority need in the Asia-Pacific region and a huge impediment to access. For example, the teledensity rate for the Asia-Pacific -- the number of telephone lines per 100 people -- is about 7 percent. The comparable density for Canada and the United States is more than 60 percent.

Imagine if the APEC economies enjoyed that level of infrastructure. Think about what that would mean in terms of market potential for your companies.

The promise and the stark reality of infrastructure development here in the Asia-Pacific make progress on this issue a matter of particular concern to all of us. Because you can't talk about access to the information highway when you have no highway.

In terms of infrastructure, government's role is clear -- to create a legal and regulatory environment that encourages private investment. More than anything, this means making sure that markets are open and competitive. Let me illustrate this point with a story.

Today, November 14, is the birthday of Robert Fulton, one of my country's great inventors. Nearly two centuries ago, in 1807, he amazed New Yorkers by building a new type of ship powered by steam and sailing it up the Hudson River to Albany.

Now most American children learn about Fulton's invention in grade school. But I mention him not because of his considerable accomplishment, but for another reason.

For after his successful trip, Fulton asked for and received a monopoly on steamships from the federal government. As you might have expected, the decision unleashed a storm of controversy. The case was argued in the legal system all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Fortunately for America, the Court ruled against Fulton, thus opening the gates to competition. The ensuing rivalry made steamboats bigger, faster, and cheaper, sparking the great era of canal-building in the United States and fueling an economic boom.

That boom would never have been possible, and consumers would not have benefited, if pro-competitive principles had not ultimately been upheld by government.

The example underscores how vital it is to have an open and competitive business environment.

In the area of infrastructure, the heaviest burden still belongs to business. Only the private sector possesses the capital resources, the technical knowledge, and the sense of innovation and bottom-line interest that are essential to developing the quality fiber optic networks and other systems that form the backbone of the digital economy.

Government and business also need to work in partnership. One of the most instructive examples of successful public-private collaboration in the U.S. is reflected in our commitment to make our schools and libraries internet-ready. Six years ago, only 35 percent of America's public schools were wired; today school connectivity exceeds 85 percent! You can't be much more successful than that.

The second element in addressing Digital Inclusion is developing human resources. In this area, government has traditionally been the major provider of education and training. And we expect the public sector to continue to play the major role in preparing a skilled labor force for the IT-intensive jobs of the 21st century.

Increasingly, though, the private sector, often in collaboration with non-profit groups and educational institutions, has assumed responsibility for developing high tech skills for business workforces, in selected industries and communities. I'm sure that most if not all of the companies represented in this room offer various kinds of worker training programs.

In the U.S., we have found that government and business are joining forces to enhance access to computer technology and the internet for specific groups who are in danger of being excluded from the Digital Revolution. In the United States, these partnerships are central to our efforts to achieve digital equality. Private-public collaboration has resulted in the establishment of a computer training center for the elderly in neighboring San Francisco. And hundreds of other partnerships are being pursued in communities all across America.

Now what does this all mean?

It means that the public and private sectors each has our special and joint roles to play in achieving the goal of Digital Inclusion. We in government will work with the other APEC economies to create a regulatory and legal environment that creates opportunities for business.

It's up to you, the business community, to seize those opportunities and make the investments that will put in place the infrastructure for the digital economy.

And we must continue to work together on partnerships that maximize our respective strengths and responsibilities.

So today I would like to challenge you.

Join us in this important undertaking to achieve Digital Inclusion.

Develop the partnerships that help us understand the needs of the future.

Partnerships that help provide computers and training for every citizen and potential enterprises.

Partnerships that encourage investment and innovation.

Partnerships that won't stifle competition but will stimulate it.

And together we will make Digital Inclusion the centerpiece of a global digital economy.

Thank you.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

NNNN


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