United Nations  International Telecommunication Union  




 Tuesday, 18 February 2003

The first of 8 multi-stakeholder roundtables were convened. The roundtables are an informal, but vital part of PrepCom-2 providing a platform for the exchange of a broad range of views relevant to the information society. The outcome of multi-stakeholder roundtables will be reported to the plenary meeting of the PrepCom-2. The roundtables can be viewed here

Accessing Knowledge, Embracing Diversity

Mr Latif Ladid of the IPv6 Forum opened Roundtable #2 (Access to knowledge, cultural and linguistic diversity) with a brief history of the Internet from its birth as a government-run, first-generation network, to the always-on, global, third-generation network we know today. He noted that in just a few decades we have gone from being “tourists” on the Internet, to “residents” of the Internet. But not everybody has completed the journey. While Internet diffusion is at 54 and 28 per cent in the United States and Japan respectively, the poorest countries of the world account for just 3 per cent.

Professor Niv Ahituv, of Tel Aviv University, Israel, introduced an NGO perspective to the discussion on access. He posed the crucial question as who should regulate content, and how. While filtering may seem desirable in some contexts, elsewhere the control of content appears to go against the principles of the right of freedom to information. The challenge therefore is to ensure that individual rights are protected through both access to knowledge that empowers individuals, but also through recourse to legal protection.

“The cultural diversity of mankind is as important as biodiversity in nature”, added Mr Abdul Waheed Khan, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information of UNESCO, emphasizing that organization’s role in establishing a “holistic” approach to access to knowledge through ICTs.  In particular, development of local content that respects and propagates local culture and heritage. The challenges noted include the fact that content creation is concentrated in the developed world. Furthermore, intellectual property systems offer inadequate protection to local content providers in marginal communities.

The example of French initiatives in the public cultural domain was provided by Mr Michel Peissik, Ambassadeur Chargé for WSIS (France). Efforts to preserve and promote cultural diversity are required in order to counter the risk of a “normalization” of content in favour of the most developed countries, who are currently the largest content producers.  He suggested that for developing countries, the use of the Internet to preserve culture can also bolster tourism – an important source of revenue – by attracting visitors to their cultural riches, while also informing indigenous populations of their own heritage.

Referring to the problems of developing countries, Mr Francis Tusubira of Makarare University (Uganda) said “We don’t have bread, we don’t aspire to cakes yet”. His emphasis was on the specific challenges to least developed countries (LDC). He pleaded for help from developed countries in bringing down the high cost of internet access for the landlocked nations of Africa, and for assistance from ITU with regulatory practices to help do that. He said it was their duty to share the surplus wealth of knowledge created by the information society with the “have nots” of the world.

Security: A Framework for Trust and Cooperation

The Roundtable began with comments from Mr Stuart Hotchkiss of Hewlett-Packard that there is plenty of theory about ICT and security, but the difficulty is putting it into practice.  Above all, it is important to concentrate on the causes of problems in IT security, not the symptoms alone. He noted that the saying, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” also applies to security and that this needs to be reflected in any position taken at the Summit.

Ms Lauren Hall (Microsoft) reinforced this by pointing out the complexity of network security. Not only are different networks involved, but also different users and an increasingly wide range of devices. Solutions therefore have to reflect that complexity and be multifaceted, by addressing privacy, reliability and trust in the providers of equipment and services.

Mr Andrey Korotkov, First Deputy Minister, Ministry for Communications and Informatization (Russian Federation) gave a personal perspective. He described the Internet as a terrain of “archeological fantasy” where treasures can be found by rummaging around, but so too can lots of undesirable things. The sheer quantity of information at our disposal is no guarantee of its quality or desirability. Physical protection is also needed, it was emphasized: a fire in a building can also do irreparable damage a network.

Professor Urs Gattiker of the European Institute for Computer Anti-Virus Research (EICAR) focused on the “weak link” in the security chain, namely home users.  “Prevention is better, and cheaper, than cure” was the message. With the growing popularity of wireless networks, broadband and services in the domestic context, home users are rapidly gaining a strong network presence. But they don’t want to pay high prices for security. It is up to governments to pave the way by encouraging or obliging home users to invest in security measures in the interests of all.

Mr Eduardo Gelbstein, formerly of the United Nations, described cyberspace as an unfinished map which included many as yet uncharted waters. Among them are the “deep Web” of sites that cannot be found by search engines, non IP-based private networks and numerous “pirate ships” that pose an actual threat to security. Navigating cyberspace is, therefore, a hazardous business and is set to be for some time to come. With the current absence of a “sea law” of cyberspace, the lack of security needs to be contained and managed to a maximum with the tools that are already in place. Action by governments must be for today, on the basis of currently existing conventions, such as the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime concluded in 2001 and signed by 33 countries to datehe urged, not tomorrow.

A number of participants concurred that there is never likely to be a single, all-embracing solution, whether on the legislative, technological or educational level. The key therefore, lies in cooperation, the development of trust, the building of appropriate frameworks that respect freedom of expression of individuals, as well as national and cultural differences.

ICT Infrastructure and Financing

The discussion in this roundtable focused on finding ways to establish new and innovative models to tackle the economic issue of universal access to telecommunications by fostering infrastructure through sustainable investment.

Mr. Yang Zemin, President of China Academy of Telecommunication Research, highlighted issues related to the development of telecommunication infrastructure in China, and its financing model. He stressed the fact that China occupies the first place in telecommunication penetration due to the opening up of its economy to foreign investment. He emphasized that the fundamental source of financing for an informatized society should come from the market, based in a reliable socio-economic environment for those enterprises.

Mr. Yann Brenner, from the Banque Interamericaine de Developpement (BID), described the policy role of the BID in developing ICTs in the Latin American and the Caribbean region. He acknowledged the task of the bank in facilitating its member states’ access to technologies and knowledge, promoting ICTs as an effective instrument for socio-economic development and consolidation of democracy while adapting ICT models to the characteristics of each member state.“We are aiming to position the BID in a strategic platform which facilitates the dialogue and consensus among the member states and to take a leader position in the promotion of ICTs within the region”.

The role that ITU, and especially the Development Sector, is playing with other partners to address some of the challenges to affordable access to ICTs for all, was addressed by Mr. Touré, Director of BDT. He expressed his confidence that one of the main outcomes of the Geneva session of the WSIS should be a way to consolidate partnerships between international, regional and national organizations.“A partnership model is a way forward in financing the development of ICTs and ensuring affordable and universal access and services to all”.

Amadou Top, Osiris, stressed the need for developing a regulatory framework to be applied to all countries in order to set the pace for a reliable investment for building infrastructure. He also recalled the idea presented during the Visionaries panel of the President of Senegal for increasing the flow of access between developing and developed countries. “We must create a digital solidarity in which countries that have a high level of connectivity should help the low ones. In that regard the digital divide will disappear which has to do with access and not technology”.

The last speaker, Pawel Stelmaszczyk from Intel Corporation, proposed a model to foster access to technology. He pointed out that the cost of building infrastructure is an obstacle to the construction of new networks. This cost is related to administrative fees and civil works, which accounts for 84 percent of the total cost. He emphasized that, in seeking a solution, local governments should invite third parties (who are not operators) to build the networks themselves. “A gap exists between technology and costs. But the benefits will include a reduction in barriers to competition in networks and services and therefore in the cost of the capital”.

Visions of the Information Society

A series of lunchtime presentations focusing on a number of key considerations for the information age is being offered. The event kicked off with a presentation by Professor Robin Mansell of the London School of Economics. She is credited with coining the term ‘information and communication technologies’ (ICTs). Professor Mansell focused on the ‘knowledge-driven’ nature of the information society. Her presentation and more information on this event can be found at

For media information concerning the second phase of the Summit, click here

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