Honorable Peter Boehm
Ambassador to the Permanent Mission of Canada
to the OAS
501 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Ambassador Boehm,

I regret that NETO/EDSAT-Americas will be unable to participate in the November 7, 2000 civil society meeting due to a conflict of schedules. I will be speaking at the European Commission Conference on "Information Society Technology", IST 2000 in Nice, France..

The IST conference will focus on E Learning for European Youth and the Future. There will be many, many public, private and civil society organization representatives looking at the question "will everyone have a chance".

Therefore, I respectfully request this opportunity to provide some brief overview comments on "The Community of the Americas: Vital Connections" discussion paper, and am respectfully submitting the Summary of my comments at the IST 2000 Conference.. The full version of the "EDSAT-Americas, Facing the Challenges with Collective Action: Will Everyone Have a Chance"? paper can be found on the World Wide Web: http://www.oas.org.

On the discussion paper under consideration by OAS Special Committee on Inter-American Summits Management, my first comment is that it is an excellent beginning on the "elements of connectivity" and its "benefits, values and advantages". That said, I would like to touch on two critical areas that are not touched on or are omitted in the discussion paper.

I would like to suggest a short section with information to raise cautions for those considering the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Not necessarily risks, but in a strong public /private partnership, the disbenefits or down sides of public spending on ICTs should be discussed. And here’s why.

ICTs do not make change. ICTs alone do not produce knowledge. ICTs are passive, some may even say it is an "inert" technology! It is "how" it is used and for what purpose, the "applications" that can bring about or cause change or information And where governments are involved in the use of ICTs, it is frequently "who" is making the decision that causes a change and information to happen.

Over recent years many government officials, leaders of institutions, and individuals have been left with unfulfilled promises, concerns over misuse or inappropriate applications, and frequently have been left with dashed expectations despite large public expenditures on ICTs.

I hasten to add, these are not issues which should be raised to slow up the integration of ICT’s. However, if these issues are included in the outset of the technology discussions it provides a framework, almost a road map, for barriers and benefits for the public officials and private sector companies who have set out to institutionalize new information and communications technologies for human resources development. It will result in more realistic expectations, and for the most part, policy makers can expect and realize huge benefits and success.

My second concern is that much the same as it is troublesome to suggest that ICTs alone will cause change, it is equally important not to have "connectivity" grounded in a discussion which fails to address the barriers and differences between the delivery of E- Commerce and public services.

The expanding information gap, digital divide, or digital apartheid, or by whatever name one wants to call it, the gap between the have and have nots , is a good example of what can happen when the economic model for connectivity and ICTs is developed and designed by companies with a different mission than public officials. Yes, the lack of "connectivity" is one major barrier. However, a discussion paper on connectivity and ICTs, can not leave out the "who", and anticipate that connectivity, in and of itself, will alter the "governance", "equity", and "cost" issues.

For example, the statement in the paper, "we must recognize the leading role to be played by the private sector", is misleading. The new structures for global economies, social services, democracies, etc. must take into account that small, large and developing countries will be strengthened with diversity, and thrive in the information economy with "full and equal" partnerships with the private sector, as well as other countries, by harmonizing resources and aggregating their economic strengths. No one sector, company, country, or institution can achieve equitable and affordable connectivity alone, or be placed in the "leading role"!

Multinational and national communication companies are financially and operationally structured to operate in mass and volume markets. Their technologies have been driving policies for more than 30 years. What have we learned is likely to happen to national sovereignty, culture and language in small and developing cocuntries if it is proposed that the private sector must be in the "lead" role? What has happened to, not only small countries, but indigenous, ethnic and minority populations in large and well heeled industrialized countries with the "private sector" in the "lead" role? Isn’t that what the digital divide is all about?

Our data and experience suggests that we must look at "new" structures and policies when ICTs with connectivity are proposed for education, health care and other public services. When the international lending institutions, the private sector, small and large countries and civil society are at the table, we must consider a new paradigm. It must include "equal and full" partnership and accountability for all stakeholders and players. That is, if indeed, we hope to provide a chance for everyone with connectivity!

Attached please find the Summary of my presentation at European Commission IST 2000 Conference on November 7, 2000. I greatly appreciated the opportunity to present the full text of the presentation, which touches on many of the issues previously discussed, upon my return.

Thank you,


Shelly Weinstein
President & CEO

EDSAT-Americas, Facing the Challenges with Collective Action: Will Everyone Have a Chance?


Suite 300-H, 1889 F Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20006, United States of America


The Vice President of the United States recently communicated with the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Forum on the EDSAT-Americas project, encouraging Ambassadors, Ministers and others "to further explore the dream of pursuing a viable Global Information Infrastructure (GII) initiative that builds on efforts to establish a global information society…I encourage you to remember that this dream is not fundamentally about developing technology…This dream is about communication and about increasing our ability to raise our children, to educate, to heal, to empower and to liberate. . .The reality that we must all embrace is that our interdependence will continue to forever influence our daily lives in many facets. Every day, government leaders face global, regional, and domestic challenges. But whether it is on our shores, the hemisphere or elsewhere, one thing is certain -- technology makes the unimaginable possible."[1]

In 1998, at the II Summit of the Americas, with the entire hemisphere looking on – education was identified as the most urgent of issues to be addressed. The 34 Leaders of the hemisphere were encouraged to develop multilateral initiatives, if indeed all people of the Americas are to realize a promise of access to basic quality education for 100% of the children by 2010 and to include the use of new information and communication technologies for education. The Ministers of Education were urged to harmonize their resources in concert with the private sector and other social agencies linked by a commitment for the larger good – the idea that education and training will drive sustainable development, strengthen democracy and alter inequalities.

The EDSAT-Americas/OAS/Private Sector Initiative

As a follow-up effort to the II Summit of the Americas the initiative is a cooperative, concrete and manageable action plan to develop the Hemisphere’s human resources to ensure that all people are given the opportunity to contribute to the political, social and economic life of their country, community and society; with further enhancement of the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Americas.

It includes 13 Latin American and Caribbean Ministers’ representatives, the North and South American private sector, educational institutions and civil society organizations in development to promote more equitable access to and use of technology to link education, health care and other public services. With special attention to open and advance these opportunities for women, youth, indigenous people and those who have been disenfranchised by illiteracy, poverty and geography.

The goal is to establish a non-government mechanism, accountable to subscriber countries in conjunction with the private sector and international organizations to connect, operate and manage satellite and land-based telecommunications infrastructure for Americas’ education and health-care institutions and other public services.

Long term benefits accrue from the rapid growth of open and affordable telecommunications infrastructure with connectivity creating an unprecedented opportunity for human resource development in education, job opportunities, health care and other social development in the Americas.

Short term benefits assure a significant, achievable and concrete implementation report for the III Summit of the Americas in Quebec, Canada, April, 2001. An action plan to assure access and use of telecommunications in education by small and large countries with commitment to inclusion and equity harmonizing their resources; to strengthen public institutions – education and health-care, and to empower all peoples to participate in knowledge-based economies to their fullest potential. There is little question that the information gap between the have and have-nots will continue to expand absent

public/private cooperative action to level the playing field for all – to close the growing gap between the have and the have-nots.

The Challenge

In Latin American and Caribbean countries almost 30% of the population is school age. Overall, more than 30% of this age group is without schooling and teachers. A large percentage of the countries’ children drop out of school by 2nd and 3rd grade or become ineligible for schooling beyond 7th and 8th grades. A large number of the children living in poverty, rural areas, and ethnic and indigenous communities have no access to school facilities, community buildings, or qualified teachers. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable since they are not expected to or are not eligible to enter schooling.

In the US, despite its economic boom and fewer Americans going hungry these days, 17% of US children, almost 12 million, face hunger. 21% of all black persons went hungry or lived on its edge, with almost the same number of hispanics in the same situation in 1999.[2] A few US Native American Indian reservations are offered limited telephone service for the first time, some remain without telephones.

It is self evident that we need not list the benefits of education as a tool to fight poverty and other social problems. However, it is only in very recent years that some Latin American and Caribbean leaders made education reform a priority. The potential for access to technology and its information resources emboldened some Ministers of Education and Prime Ministers to address the education reform in their countries. However, the realities of huge national debts, weak economies and high costs held back funding.

It is widely recognized that if we are going to even the playing field for all countries in the Americas with small and large populations, widely dispersed or densely populated communities, groups of countries and states must aggregate their buying power for cross-border and international common-infrastructure to bring about cost-effective access and use of these technologies and respect national sovereignty and authority.

The concept is not new. We have been encouraging multilateral agreements in the use of electric power grids and transportation authorities around the globe for years. To meet the education sector demands and needs, governments, schools and the private sector, need modern day electronic power grids governed by an authority or mechanism to bring costs down, recognize local and national governance and interests, encourage competition, and effectively and swiftly bring educational institutions, - teaching and learning - into the 21st century.

How to address the long term financial investments to provide equitable access to education for all students and workers in the Americas, or elsewhere on the globe, which cannot be met by one company, one nation/state or one institution, is a key challenge.

How growth of private E-Learning networks impacts supply and demand for access in less affluent, poor, rural, ethnic and indigenous communities, remains an open question.

The EDSAT-Americas project addresses costs, equity, governance and other major barriers. It addresses the incompatibility of telecommunications industries and international lending institutions with education demands. The report calls for collective action with public/private partnerships to address a growing information gap between rich and poor countries and communities.

The full version of this paper can be found on the World Wide Web: http://www.oas.org


[1] The US Vice President, Al Gore, writing to participants in the Secretary General’s OAS Forum on the EDSAT-Americas Project, September 20, 2000.

[2] The New York Times, "Millions Still Going Hungry in the US", September 10, 2000.


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