March 29, 2007 11:24 AM PDT

Bush and Clinton cameo at wireless show

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ORLANDO, Fla.--Former U.S. Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton on Thursday told wireless executives at an industry event here how important their work is in shaping democracies and economies around the world.

Speaking to a packed house of roughly 5,000 people at the CTIA Wireless trade show, the former presidents took to the stage separately and then sat down together to answer a few questions. The two have worked closely over the past couple of years raising money for victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Asian tsunami.

clintonbush
Credit: Marguerite Reardon
Former Presidents Clinton and Bush
speak to crowd Thursday at CTIA Wireless.

During his speech, Clinton pointed out the benefits of the technology and communications boom of the 1990s, highlighting his own role in signing into law the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which paved the way for cable companies and others to enter the telecommunications market.

But while millions benefited from the boom, Clinton said, many people in the world have remain out of reach of such prosperity. He noted that half the world's population still lives on just $2 a day. Communications technology, in particular mobile phones, could help improve the lives of the world's poorest by enabling people to reach new markets and make connections in ways that didn't formerly exist, he said.

On the flip side, he also talked about how the same technology used to foster economic development in poor regions of the world, can be used by terrorists to organize and plot attacks.

He urged people in wireless communications businesses to widen their circle of influence to not only grow their industry for their own personal gain, but to help poor people throughout the world get access to communications technology, and to also use this technology to help educate people and break down destructive identity barriers that split the world apart and foster terrorism.

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CTIA revs up for wireless
One of the largest trade shows in the industry, CTIA Wireless 2007 showcases the latest products, strategies and developments in mobile technology.

"You don't want historians to look back and say they had this wonderful technology which enabled people to communicate, but all it did was reinforce divisions of the 20th century," he said.

The communications industry would rather the story be that its technology helped benefit everyone--rather than serving to divide people into different groups or identities, being used instead to unite people throughout the world, he said.

Bush also highlighted how technology could be used to influence the world. Specifically, he talked about how technology can help spread democracy.

He relayed a story he had heard from former Canada Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who said that in the early 1980s, then-West Germany Chancellor Helmut Kohl had predicted the fall of East Germany. Bush explained that Kohl was convinced that Germany would soon be reunified because people living in the east were seeing through television how prosperous and free the west was.

"Thanks to the technology, the genie was already coming out of the bottle," Bush said.

Bush added that more modern technology, such as the Internet, is also influencing China in similar ways. Bush, who has visited China 14 times since leaving the presidency in 1992, said he has seen drastic changes there over the years as technology creeps deeper into society connecting the Chinese people to the rest of the world.

There are more human rights and examples of capitalism "than anyone would have dreamed possible," he said. "And your industry will have a large part to play in more freedoms that lie ahead in China."

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