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
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.
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
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
The Valletta Action
Plan programmes aimed at closing the digital divide can be viewed.