The tucked-away river town of Wuzhen may not be an obvious site for the World Internet Conference, but the annual event shows that Internet connection is more important to modern life than location.
This year's conference, the fourth ever, featured a vision for the future of the east China town's century-old wooden houses: retrofitting with "smart home" systems that bring breakfast first thing in the morning and hail driverless cars to take residents to work after the morning meal.
Mobile payment, facial recognition, shared bikes and omnipresent wifi have become a part of everyday life for residents in Wuzhen, which makes Luigi Gambardella, president of ChinaEU, a Brussels-based association that promotes communication between China and Europe, wonder whether the technology can be copied in less developed regions.
World Bank statistics show that even among the poorest 20 percent of the world's population, nearly 70 percent have cellphones, meaning more households have access to the digital devices than to clean water, improved toilets or electricity.
In China, there are more than eight million online shops on Alibaba's e-commerce platform, 62 percent of which are small shops. The percentage of female shop owners is growing, and the disabled already account for one percent of e-shop owners.
Other corners of the world have also benefited from the "digital dividend."
In Kenya, remittance costs have been reduced by over 90 percent for migrant workers who send money back to their families in rural areas, thanks to digital payment systems. In India, the Aadhar biometric ID system has served more than one billion, especially poor people, while preventing corruption and waste, saving the government billions of dollars every year.
However, there are still a lot of people who are not able to benefit from the digital revolution.
Managing Director and World Bank Group Chief Administrative Officer, Shaolin Yang said there are six billion people without access to high-speed internet, and four billion of them don't have access to the internet at all.
"It is why here at this year's conference we must discuss how to bridge the digital divide," said Gambardella, who said China is capable of being a leader in this endeavor.
China leads the world in access to fiber optic broadband networks and boasts the largest 4G network. Its internet penetration has topped 72.5 percent.
Gambardella thinks that the Chinese government has efficient administration that leads to timely decision making.
"In China, the government-led deployment of fiber-optic networks in rural areas is a best practice in the digital economy and should be introduced to other countries," he said. "The conference is a perfect platform for China to share its experience in bridging the digital divide."
In Mexico, the government is leading an internet reform that aims to reduce the costs for mobile communication and prices of information services.
"Our internet access rate has grown to 20 percent. In the meantime, 61 percent of mobile users have access to broadband, which was only 6 percent in 2011," said Miguel Angel Margain, Director General of the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property.
The unprecedented information revolution will be more meaningful when all people in the world can benefit from it, Yang added.
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