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Science and technology have undergone revolutionary changes in past century. Only a few decades ago, all telecommunications services were delivered over copper wires. More recently, the world has witnessed the exponential growth of mobile telephony and the widespread commercial deployment of the Internet. Today, the dazzling array of new technologies, services and applications has led to a digital age of information communications technology (ICT) in which access has become a key component of peoples’ lives. These changes hold so much promise. The convergence of technologies, its rapid rate of change and its importance in the development of the economic, social, financial and educational sectors, is opening new opportunities from e-commerce to Tele-education and Tele-medicine.

At the same time, these changes pose fresh challenges -- especially to those in the developing world. Half the world’s inhabitants have yet to make their first basic telephone call. Even fewer have used the Internet. The majority of the more than 6 billion people who inhabit our planet have been completely shut out of the digital revolution and the promise it holds. As the pace of the technological revolution increases, so does the digital divide. The digital divide concerns governments, the private sector, multilateral organisations, financial institutions, non-governmental organisations and everyday citizens. Together, we have the power to close the digital divide by uniting our resources under a common framework designed to foster the growth of information communications technologies world-wide. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialised United Nations agency, is already implementing such a framework -- the Valletta Action Plan. [1]

ITU is the only international organisation whose primary focus is communications. Telecommunication operators make up ITU’s core constituency. While today’s economy has witnessed a boom in Internet start-up companies – many of which have joined ITU -- traditional telecommunication operators remain the world’s most important Internet backbone providers and Internet Service Providers. ITU has a unique opportunity to work with these key Internet players. Moreover, one of the main purposes of ITU is to promote the extension of the benefits of the new ICTs to all the world’s inhabitants. ITU is mandated to foster and offer technical assistance to developing countries and to promote the mobilisation of the material, human and financial resources needed to implement these goals. Some of the countries that have become today’s leading global telecommunications players -- Malaysia, Korea and Singapore -- were beneficiaries of ITU technical co-operation programmes. ITU’s mandate further includes promoting international co-operation and partnerships between our government Members and the growing number of private sector members who have joined ITU. ITU Electronic Commerce for Developing Countries (EC-DC) programme, is a shining example of the benefits such partnerships bring to the world’s poorest economies. ITU has been playing a leadership role in bridging the digital divide under the four-year strategic Valletta Action Plan (VAP) adopted by the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) in 1998. VAP is a six-point action plan that address the key elements needed to bridge the digital divide: sector reform, access to new technologies, gender issues, rural development and universal service/access, finance and economics, partnerships with the private sector and human resource development. VAP also includes a special programme to take into consideration the needs of Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Under the leadership of the ITU and with the support and participation of other United Nations Agencies, governments and private sector, a World Summit on the Information Society is scheduled for 2003.

In addition to its work under the VAP and programmes approved at the 1998 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, ITU is collaborating with the UN and other multilateral organisations, financial institutions, NGOs and other entities involved in poverty eradication in a further effort to bridge the digital divide.

For a brief description of Valletta Action Plan programmes aimed at closing the digital divide, click here

1. The core functions of ITU are carried out by its three sectors: the Radiocommunication Sector, the Telecommunication Standardisation Sector and the Telecommunication Development Sector.

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Updated : 2001-07-31