G-7 Information Conference Seeks Free Markets, Jobs
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Government and industry officials from the world’s seven richest nations kick off a conference today seeking to eliminate gridlock on the global information superhighway.
Vice President Al Gore is representing the United States at the three-day gathering hosted by European Union President Jacques Santer.
Some 45 top executives from such corporate giants as IBM, Time Warner and Walt Disney Co. will trade ideas at a roundtable discussion Saturday _ making this the first G-7 event in which business leaders will share the stage with politicians.
Although the United States, the 15-nation EU and Japan differ on strategies to achieve the ``information society,″ where computers, telecommunications and television will converge in one behemoth industry, they are expected to find common ground.
For the weekend conference, ``the European Union and the United States are seeing the future of telecommunications through remarkably similar spectacles,″ said Stuart Eizenstat, U.S. ambassador to the EU.
The conference is expected to agree on policies guiding competition between companies in the global market. It will try to streamline technical standards and approve a series of pilot projects.
But in the information and communications market which, according to German Economics Minister Guenter Rexrodt, is expected to yield $1 trillion by 2000, competition will nonetheless be sharp _ covering everything from video-on-demand for popular Hollywood fare to fiber-optic cable networks, satellites, home shopping and E-mail.
Europe’s technology elite worries about being stuck in the slow lane of the information highway. While everyone from rebels in Mexico to peace activists in Bosnia are getting their messages out via the Internet, western Europeans are still showering one another with faxes.
``We are at least four years behind the United States,″ complained Juergen Ziessnitz, managing director of Europe Online in Luxembourg. He plans to launch the first European on-line service by July _ with American software, AT&T’s Interchange.
It took Klaus Fueller five years to get 250 German schools access to the Internet.
``We are drilling small holes in thick walls,″ Fueller said. ``We can’t even exchange (electronic) mail with students in France.″
Fueller failed to get support from the federal government or even private investors; such a lack of support is common in western Europe.
Other EU worries may surface at the meeting. The organization wants to make sure, for instance, that the U.S. industrial edge does not not turn into cultural ``colonization,″ as French Culture Minister Jacques Toubon put it.
Last year, the United States had 35 percent of the world information and communications market, the EU 27 percent and Japan 16 percent, the European Information Technology Observatory reported.
Unemployment will also be high on the meeting agenda.
Some 17 million people, or 10.7 percent of the working population, are jobless in the EU. The information sector is now seen as a primary job creator, with 35 percent of new jobs in the United States linked to the information sector.
In France, the interactive information system Minitel has created up to 350,000 jobs _ as many as in the whole EU steel industry _ said EU Competition Commissioner Karel Van Miert.
Frontlines are drawn as well between free marketeers and state interventionists. The United States insists on an open business environment, while the EU telecommunications market remains largely in the hands of national monopolies.
``The joint concern is that markets must be open as the American market is open,″ said Ellwood Kerkeslager, vice president for technology and infrastructure at AT&T.