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 Thursday, 18 September 2003


Subcommittee-2 Forges Ahead on Draft Action Plan 

As PrepCom-3 approaches the end of its first week, work on the Draft Action Plan moved ahead significantly. Entering into the substance of the Action Plan, the different stakeholder groups and Member States presented general comments and inputs on specific paragraphs. Although the Facilitator’s Group is working in parallel on the Draft Declaration of Principles, the Chairman, H.E. Mr. Numminen, invited specific proposals on the Action Plan points. “Harmonization of the two documents can be carried out once all proposals have been submitted for consideration”, he suggested. “For now, we have to move on in order to have a revised version of the Action Plan before us by the beginning of the second week”.

Capacity Building for Vulnerable Groups – Stemming the “Brain Drain”

Among the topics under debate were capacity building and e-learning, including use of ICTs in education, development of ICT literacy and skills, and facilitating local knowledge development through e-learning. Several speakers from stakeholder groups and Member States stressed the importance of learning and skills acquisition to enable full participation in the information society, in particular for young people, girls and women, developing country populations and other vulnerable groups. “Young people have to be equipped with the skills and knowledge if they are to play their part in the information society”, said one delegate. But learning is not just for those at school age, it was pointed out. “Learning also comprises lifelong learning. In some populations even basic education is only acquired in later life. ICTs have the potential to bring education within reach of many who would otherwise be deprived of real learning opportunities.” Although education is typically seen as belonging to the public domain, a representative of the business community affirmed private sector support for education via ICTs.

One associated problem faced by many developing countries is the “brain drain”, where ICT-trained professionals are frequently “lost” to more developed economies. It was pointed out by one delegate that the “brain drain” should be seen in a broad context. “Not only are ICT capacity building and education essential, but so is the promotion of ICT enterprise to boost employment and the local economic environment”, it was argued. Only then will young people be encouraged to feed their knowledge back into their own cultures. 

Science was also high in the minds of many, including the Science and Technology Caucus. Reiterating the views of several others, including the Centre Européen de Recherche Nucléaire (CERN), the speaker pointed out the role of science in technology development. “But science and technology are also at the heart of many aspects of human development”, he said. These include e-health, e-learning, and the sharing of scientific knowledge. Many developing country Member States considered open source software to be essential to ensure equitable access to scientific and other knowledge. Other participants pointed out that open source software is one of several options to extend equitable access. 

Global Schoolnet Alliance Launched for Summit

A videoconference with students, teachers and media in Geneva, New York, Tanzania and Uganda was the venue today for the launch of the first Global Schoolnet Alliance. The World Summit Event for Schools will bring together educators who manage school networks and students in up to 40 countries to harness the potential that ICTs can play in preparing students for a knowledge-based ‘information’ society. Between today and the Summit, students around the world will examine the relationship between ICTs and human rights through a series of online activities. They will explore how the right to give and receive information has changed since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, and they will rewrite Article 19 (Freedom of Expression) and Article 26 (Right to an Education). Through this study they will address issues raised by the new ICTs and discuss whether it is possible to protect freedom of speech while preventing “hate speech”. They will also suggest ways that ICTs can help build cross-cultural understanding and a culture of peace. 

The event, co-organized by the United Nations Cyberschoolbus and the European Schoolnet  with support from ITU, culminates with a live, online interaction between students and a Head of State on 11 December 2003. To take part in these activities, teachers should register at  The Schoolnet event seeks to build a global alliance of ICT educational networks linking millions of students, which could serve as a focal point for educational projects on peace education, human rights, and other social issues, as well as serving as a resource for local community development projects. 

A Teen Guide to the Internet

To coincide with PrepCom-3, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) released a publication in support of WSIS: The Musketeers Conquer the Net? A Teen Guide to Getting Online. The lively dialogues in the book recount the adventures of four teenagers who, thanks to the Internet, maintain contact while separated by thousands of kilometres. Oksana and Mikhail from Belarus have been staying with Julietta and Carlo in Italy during an exchange organized by an Italian NGO ‘Comitato Girotondo’. Their adventures and misadventures while surfing on the Net will allow young readers (and the less young too) to discover the fascinating and dangerous world of the World Wide Web. The publication is available in English, French, Russian and Spanish. More information is available at: 

ICT Access Calls on Scarce Resources: Radio Spectrum, Hardware and Software

The Action Plan should encourage governments to ensure fair and efficient allocation of the radio frequency spectrum - a scarce resource - said many delegates. Ghana gave the example of how war has resulted in the destruction of its major communication infrastructures. In such cases, efficient use of the radio spectrum can help to re-establish urgently needed communications links. The important spectrum management role of ITU’s Radiocommunication Sector, particularly through its World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-03), was recognized. Some countries said that allocation decisions should nevertheless remain a national responsibility. Click here for information on the latest WRC, held in 2003.

Another major obstacle to accessing ICTs – particularly in developing countries – is the high cost of software and hardware. As part of an “enabling environment”, said Malaysia, “people must be able to obtain cheaper software.” Ghana echoed this call. But as part of making software and hardware more affordable, said one delegate, local manufacturing should be fostered. Local production will not only circumvent the need to pay import duties on foreign products, but can serve to bolster local employment and stimulate ICT knowledge. The Democratic Republic of Congo and others added to the argument, saying that the waiving or removal of customs duties levied on hardware and software products would go a long way to removing the price obstacle to ICT access.

On trade and commerce in general though, several delegations were opposed to using overly prescriptive language in areas covered by existing international agreements, treaties or forums. These include for example the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs Agreement) of WTO and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It was argued that not all countries are signatories to such agreements, and the Action Plan should remain non-prescriptive in this regard.

Internet Governance, Media and Security Left Pending 

While there was some discussion on the sensitive topics of Internet governance, media and security, many delegations preferred to await the outcome of the relevant ad hoc group discussions devoted to these topics. Clear signs emerged however, of the main issues. On Internet governance and security, some delegations expressed the view that governments should be able to negotiate these within an intergovernmental forum or body, while others would prefer to work on a multilateral basis. It was argued by some that the private sector’s involvement in technical and standards issues means that international negotiations should include private sector representation. Civil society and international organizations are also players in this field. On Internet governance, a clear priority for some delegations was for country-code top-level domain names (ccTLD) to remain a national responsibility.

Greater Internet security was a priority for many delegates. Commercial transactions, said some, should be made more secure through implementation of electronic signature and authentication mechanisms. Information security, or “cybersecurity”, requires international coordination on standards, technology and legal frameworks, and is essential if e-commerce, e-business and e-health are to grow. Growth in these areas will increase confidence, it was pointed out, to the particular benefit of developing countries. Further negotiation of security issues was held over until the ad hoc group on security has completed its work.

Media-related issues were also left for in-depth consideration in the light of the outcome of the ad hoc group on media’s discussions. It was announced today that a further small group has been created to discuss "Financing". This group will be chaired by Sweden. The list of groups is as follows: 

Right to communicate: Coordinator = Canada 
Internet and information security: Coordinator = Italy (for the European Union)
Internet governance:  Coordinator = Kenya
Enabling environment: Coordinator = Brazil
Languages and cultural diversity: Coordinator = India
Media: Coordinator = Switzerland
Financing: Coordinator = Sweden

Civil Society Spotlight on the Volunteer Family

The Volunteer Family within Civil Society is coordinated by International Conference Volunteers (ICV) and brings together organizations working with volunteers locally and globally. Thousands of volunteers offer their knowledge and expertise in the field of ICT capacity building, as well as through e-volunteer programs. 

Within the WSIS, a working group on 'Volunteerism and ICTs' was created to work on contents and themes linked to volunteerism. In addition to the civil society family members, this working group also includes United Nations Volunteers Program (UNV). The Volunteer Family is developing a range of activities: the creation of a web site "World Wide Volunteer"  an on-line library on Volunteerism and the Information Society; an international symposium in Dakar, Senegal 23-25 Oct. 2003); a meeting organized by the European Volunteer Center (Brussels, Belgium 10 Oct. 2003); and two days of workshops (7-8 Dec. 2003), bringing together at Palexpo in Geneva specialists working in the field of volunteerism and ICTs. As well, there will be a photo exhibition under the title "The Spirit of Making Something out of Nothing": Volunteerism and the Information Society, Exchange of Views between the North and the South, will present the digital divide in photo images. It brings together artists from Europe, Africa and America. A documentary about the digital divide will provide specific examples of ICT projects carried out in both Mali and Senegal and the lessons that can be learned from them.

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