The United Nations yesterday launched an Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Task Force, intended to push technology benefits to more people around the world.

Phrased more prosaically as being "intended to form broad partnerships to advance the United Nations' development goals and bring the benefits of technology to developing nations", the ICT Task Force has been in the works since June 2000.

"One of the most pressing challenges of the new millennium is to harness this exploding force, and spread it through the world and make it meaningful for all humanity, particularly the poor. The specific mission of this task force is to tell us how we might accomplish this ambitious goal," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at the start of Tuesday's inaugural meeting of the ICT group. "We look to you to help build the digital bridges to the millions of people now trapped in extreme poverty, beyond the reach of the digital revolution."

The ICT Task Force comprises an array of diplomats, business executives and representatives from non-governmental and non-profit organisations.

The group is currently led by José María Figueres Olsen, special representative of the secretary-general on ICT and former president of Costa Rica.

The ICT Task Force does not, in general, intend to finance and organise projects. Instead, its mission is to 'facilitate connections' among a variety of agencies to aid implementation of the projects it chooses to promote. The group's primary focus is on speeding the use of technology to fight poverty and otherwise aid developing regions.

Reaching the people of Africa, where internet penetration is negligible, will be a key focus for the group, according to several members.

Africa is "the most marginalised continent of the new economy," said Martin Belinga-Eboutou. Belinga-Eboutou is president of the UN Economic and Social Council and a native of Cameroon.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Han Seung-Soo, president of the UN General Assembly. Africa represents 12 percent of the world's population, but generates less than one percent of the global internet content, he said.

"It would be a cruel irony if the world's newest technological revolution were to widen, rather than narrow the existing gap between the developed and developing nations," he said. "The vast majority of human beings remain untouched by [ICT]."

Much of the ICT Task Force's work will be done within working groups focusing on specific issues, including global policy, low-cost connectivity, human resource development and entrepreneurship.

Information on the United Nations Information and Communications Technologies Task Force is available online.