Thinking--and acting--globally

Environmentalists in the 1960s had a saying: "Think globally, act locally." What that meant, or what I thought it meant at the time, was that local decision- making had come to have a global impact that must be considered, but that the actions springing from one`s decisions were best directed at local rather than universal problems, presumably because local problems are easier to solve. And, if all the local problems get solved, won`t most of the global problems be solved in the process?

Jun 1st, 1998

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.

Group Editorial Director

arlynp@pennwell.com

Environmentalists in the 1960s had a saying: "Think globally, act locally." What that meant, or what I thought it meant at the time, was that local decision- making had come to have a global impact that must be considered, but that the actions springing from one`s decisions were best directed at local rather than universal problems, presumably because local problems are easier to solve. And, if all the local problems get solved, won`t most of the global problems be solved in the process?

To think globally while acting locally--and not just for environ- mental concerns but for technological ones as well--remains a good policy for today. As a matter of fact, I was reminded of that 1960s slogan recently when reading a report from the International Telecommunication Union (itu--Geneva). The report, released in conjunction with the itu`s second World Telecommunication Development Conference, has as its theme "universal access" and states as its goal that "by the early part of the next century virtually the whole of mankind should be brought within easy reach of a telephone."

Even though universal access is a goal of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, we in the United States tend to think of it in different terms than might be true of those in the less developed countries of the world. For instance, it would be difficult to imagine a situation in the United States where someone would be out of easy reach of a telephone for any extended period of time.

And yet, the figures released in the World Telecommunication Development Report suggest that a dramatically different situation exists in other parts of the world. For example:

At the beginning of 1997, 62% of all main telephone lines were installed in just 23 developed countries, even though these countries accounted for less than 15% of the world population.

In developing countries, 60% of the population lives in rural areas; however, 80% of the main telephone lines in these countries are located in urban areas.

The disparity between the developed and the developing world is even more startling for new technologies than is the case for basic telephone service. For instance, 84% of mobile cellular subscribers, 91% of all facsimile machines, and 97% of all Internet host computers are found in developed countries.

The itu report concludes that universal access "is still far from becoming a reality" and "as the twentieth century draws to a close there remain vast differences in access to telecommunications in different parts of the world."

The cultural challenge is clearly that the developed countries must help the developing countries become equal partners in the emerging world-information economy. And along with this challenge comes an obvious business opportunity: As cabling standards converge worldwide, manufacturers are finding a global market for their products, and this market is clearly growing more rapidly in developing countries than in the industrial nations. At the same time, there is an opportunity for the technical expertise found among cabling contractors, engineering firms, and systems integrators to be employed in other parts of the world.

As both the makers and installers of cabling products reach out to embrace these rapidly growing global markets, what is more or less taken for granted in the United States--a national information infrastructure--will truly become a global information infrastructure. So, think globally--and perhaps it`s now time to start acting globally as well.

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