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Web inventor: Closing digital divide must be top priority

FILE - In this March 12, 2019, file photo, English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, delivers a speech during an event at the CERN in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland, marking 30 years of World Wide Web. Berners-Lee said Thursday, June 11, 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the gross inequality of a world where almost half the population is unable to connect, telling a high-level U.N. meeting our number one focus must be to close the digital divide. (Fabrice Coffrini/Pool, Keystone via AP, File)
FILE - In this March 12, 2019, file photo, English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, delivers a speech during an event at the CERN in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland, marking 30 years of World Wide Web. Berners-Lee said Thursday, June 11, 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the gross inequality of a world where almost half the population is unable to connect, telling a high-level U.N. meeting our number one focus must be to close the digital divide. (Fabrice Coffrini/Pool, Keystone via AP, File)

TANZANIA – World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee said Thursday the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates “the gross inequality” of a world where almost half the population is unable to connect to the internet.

He told a high-level U.N. meeting “our number one focus must be to close the digital divide.”

Some 3.5 billion people have missed out on the “lifeline” the internet has provided during the coronavirus crisis that has enabled work, education and social connections online, Berners-Lee said.

“This inequality is a barrier to wider equality, and we know it most affects those who are already marginalized — people in developing countries, those on low incomes, and of course, women and girls, he said. “Men remain 21 percent more likely than women to be online, and 52 percent more likely in the least developing countries.”

He spoke at the online launch of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.

A first step is to develop new financial models to provide affordable connectivity to the Internet for everyone by 2030.

Tackling inequality requires raising the bar from basic access to ensuring that people have “meaningful connectivity” to the Internet “that must include data and devices to use the full power of it,” Berners-Lee said.

When people do get online, they must also find that it is safe, participants said.