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 Summit Highlights: 15 November 2005




The resumed session of PrepCom-3 finally closed its doors at around 23:25, with a final text approved by all delegates just ahead of the official start of the Tunis Summit.

The crucial agreement on Internet governance was reached at around 22:10. The final text of what will become Chapter 3 of the Summit output document contains breakthroughs in several areas, including agreement on the creation of a new Forum, at the invitation of the UN Secretary-General, recognition that all governments have an equal role and responsibility, the start of a new process of enhanced cooperation between all relevant organizations, and a set of deadlines for spurring and monitoring progress. The text agreed in Geneva is now also supplemented with new paragraphs on cybercrime and cybersecurity.

WSIS Opening Press Conference: Organizers are upbeat

At a press conference on the eve of the Tunis phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi said he was satisfied with the logistical arrangements for one of the biggest events in the history of the United Nations. He announced to journalists gathered at the Kram Conference and Exhibition Centre, that 23’000 participants had already registered for the event, with 12’000 arrivals recorded so far. Some 173 countries are represented at the Summit, with over 50 Heads of State and Government expected to attend the event, which formally opens on 16 November.

More than 300 parallel events are planned, hosted by international organizations, industry and civil society groups, reflecting the multi-stakeholder approach of the WSIS process. ITU has itself launched the Connect the World initiative, and has a pavilion showcasing partners and their projects. The first phase of WSIS, held in Geneva on 10-12 December 2003, reached a milestone with the unanimous endorsement of a Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action by the world’s political leaders. The Declaration of Principles describes the values that a truly inclusive information society must embrace and foster. The Plan of Action spells out ten targets to turn this vision into reality.

The Tunis phase is being dubbed the "Summit of Solutions". But, as PrepCom-3 negotiations continued this morning, compromise had yet to be reached on implementation mechanisms of the WSIS action plan, as well as the key issue of Internet governance.

Mr Utsumi said he was pleased with progress in the negotiations so far, especially the headway made this morning on Internet governance. A basic resource for social and economic development, governments need to carry out their roles and responsibilities in terms of public policy issues, although not engage in day-to-day technical arrangements. "One country cannot arbitrarily manage this resource," he said, adding that "management should be more democratic and multilateral," and that countries need agreement to work on an equal footing. A new level of commitment is now evident at the political level, as well as from civil society and the private sector.

At the WSIS opening press conference at 14:15, Mr Utsumi said he was confident that the world could be connected by 2015, including the 800 000 villages that remain without information and communication technologies (ICT). "In order to connect these villages we need about USD 1 billion," Mr Utsumi said. "Every year about USD 100 billion is invested in the mobile telephone system, so only 1 per cent of this amount is needed to achieve the target." He went on to profile the Stocktaking Report - one of the major outputs of the WSIS process - along with a Golden Book of initiatives and announcements that will be maintained online.

Resumed Prep-Com 3: The unfinished business

Sub-committee A from PrepCom-3, chaired by Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan, is trying to hammer out some sort of compromise on how the Internet should be run. Sub-committee B, chaired by Ms Lyndall Shope-Mafole (South Africa) is to try to resolve everything else, notably the implementation and follow-up of the WSIS Plan of Action and the wording and financial mechanisms of the political document.

Internet governance: In search of common ground

The heart of the Internet governance debate revolves around who sets the rules for managing key Internet resources such as domain names and Internet protocol addresses.

As the globalized Internet becomes a critical element of infrastructure everywhere, many stakeholders in the WSIS process recognize that an Internet in which any single government has a pre-eminent role is no longer acceptable, nor is it sustainable. The idea of a global forum seems attractive to many participants, but how such a forum would function or be financed are still being negotiated.

Meanwhile, in a session of Sub-Committee A, Canada, Switzerland and Singapore presented the reports of their drafting groups on some of the outstanding issues. Venezuela proposed to add the words "international management of the Internet" to alternate paragraph 75 (Room Document 24, 15 November). But this met with strong opposition from the United States, Canada, Japan, and Australia. The United States pointed out that including these words would change the intention of the paragraph, which, in that country’s view, included three important concepts: the agreement to enhanced cooperation; the identification of an important area for such cooperation, and the agreement on maintaining the decentralized management of the Internet. Chairman Khan requested Venezuela to meet with the delegates of the opposing Member States in a bid to reach agreement on the text.

Towards the "Tunis Commitment"

In Sub-Committee B, delegates continued negotiations of the "Tunis Commitment", the WSIS political document. They agreed on a section of the text provided by a drafting group, chaired by Egypt and the United States, on the role governments can play in building a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society.

Freedom of opinion and expression was also discussed on the basis of a text provided by a drafting group, chaired by Iran and Norway. The text would reaffirm the language of the Declaration of Principles adopted at the Geneva phase of the Summit, and in furthering that agreement would recognize the freedom to seek, receive and impart information, knowledge and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers.

In particular, governments would commit themselves to promoting and protecting freedom of expression, including the media; would deem such freedom increasingly key to development and to pluralistic, prosperous and socially stable societies; and would recognize that this freedom carries with it duties and responsibilities.

Ms Shope-Mafole pointed out that the room was "clearly divided" on the proposed paragraph and urged Member States, particularly the United Kingdom, to find language that would meet the concerns of all.

The Russian Federation, supported by Switzerland, proposed giving the Norway-Iran drafting group another chance to reach a compromise on the text. Representatives from Cuba, Switzerland, El Salvador, Saudi Arabia and Canada pointed out that the Norway-Iran proposal was reopening issues that were discussed and negotiated at length in Geneva. Canada and Norway stated that freedom of the press was essential for development.

Information Society 2015: Building the Way Forward

ITU held a High-Level Panel on 15 November to discuss the future challenges of the information society, as well as innovative solutions and effective policies for bridging the digital divide.

Panellists included Philippe Mvouo, Minister for Post, Telecommunications and New Information and Communication Technologies, Republic of the Congo; Tarek Kamel, Minister of Communications and Information, Egypt; Jorge Alvarez, Vice-Minister of Communications and Transportation, Mexico; Yeongi Son, President of the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion, Republic of Korea; Sabiletso Mokoe-Matabane, CEO, Sentech, South Africa; Simon Beresford Wylie, Executive Vice- President and General Manager of Networks, Nokia; and Stephen Collins, Director, Government and Regulatory Affairs, Skype.

Chaired by Aiko Doden, WSIS Goodwill Ambassador and presenter with Japan Broadcasting Corporation, the panel focused on the theme of "Information Society 2015: Building the Way Forward". As ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi stated in his opening remarks, both developed and developing economies are facing new challenges in an environment of rapid innovation and convergence. He stressed the need "to ensure that the benefits of ICT are extended to all of the world’s inhabitants." In his keynote speech, Mr Alhaji Aliu Mahama, Vice President of Ghana, highlighted that "global partners for development are fundamental in the promotion of the information society in our individual countries."

The panel discussion that followed centred around innovation dynamics, trends in ICT policy and regulation, and financing for bridging the digital divide at national and international levels. Given the great success of mobile communications, Nokia put forth its vision that life will continue to go mobile, particularly in the developing world. The importance of technology-neutral regulation was highlighted by a number of panellists.

One of the key issues receiving much media attention of late is the growing user base of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), for example, through services like Skype. For Skype, its acquisition by EBay is a clear signal of confidence not only in the future of the company itself but also in the overall shift to IP communications. In that respect, many panelists agreed that voice data is no different from any other data service, and that interconnection agreements should be negotiated between service providers to stimulate market development.

The Grameen Foundation Project in Bangladesh offers an example of how both financing and business strategies can work together to bring communication to people who earn less than one dollar a day. According to Peter Bladin, Vice President, Grameen Foundation, USA and Director Grameen Technology Center, ten years ago, Grameen applied for the first mobile licence in Bangladesh. Back then, the organization had 600’000 fixed lines for a population of 140 million. Grameen now has 40 million subscribers. In 175’000 villages, access is available through a "sharing model". The end result is affordable communications for 100 million people who 10 years ago had no communication access at all.

Protecting children from sexual exploitation

Children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, and their rights should be reflected in the final "blueprint" document of the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), panellists said at a meeting organized by End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Sexual abuse of children, through, for example, pornography or trafficking, is one of the fastest-growing and most insidious computer-related crimes worldwide. The rights of children to be protected from abuse are enshrined in law (Convention on the Rights of the Child) in 190 countries across the world. This, however, has not stopped child abuse from escalating; worse still, it has grown into a lucrative business. The total value of revenues from child abuse ranges from USD 3 billion to 20 billion, according to FBI figures.

New paths to violence and risk in cyberspace are growing, with the emergence of mobile Internet, P2P file sharing, instant messaging, chat rooms, multi-player interactive and fantasy games, web cameras and wireless game consoles. The impact of child abuse in the virtual world is very real: physical trauma, depression, low self-esteem, hunger, self-harm, exhaustion, aggressive behaviour and fear. ECPAT presented the report Violence Against Children in Cyberspace as part of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on "Violence Against Children."

Greater cooperation is required at the policy-making level and among private sector players (for example codes of conduct among Internet service providers). International conventions and global industry standards are seen as crucial. The Convention on Cybercrime (i.e. article 9 on principles and article 13 on sanctions) initiated by the Council of Europe, is an important starting point, as the first binding instrument to deal with child abuse in cyberspace. The Convention is open to all countries in the world. It is hoped that a working group of international stakeholders on e-child protection will emerge from the WSIS process.

Indicators to measure the information society

In less than eighteen months, the Partnership for Measuring ICT for Development has established a set of core indicators that will help political leaders in allocating scarce resources. According to participants, the indicators measure ICT infrastructure and access; access to and use of ICT by individuals and households; use of ICT by business; and the ICT sector and trade in ICT goods.

"These data will be used to make crucial decisions and to avoid duplication and waste of scarce resources", said Hamadoun Touré, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, at the event "Measuring the Information Society".

The Partnership involves 11 organizations – OECD, Eurostat, the World Bank, the UN ICT Task Force, the International Telecommunication Union, UNESCO and the five UN Regional Commissions (see "The work of this Partnership has a strong link with the development agenda," said UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Jose Antonio Ocampo. "It will provide a strong rationale for ICT policies - without data it is difficult to decide how to allocate resources and, as economists say, "You cannot improve what you cannot measure."

ECLAC Executive Secretary José Luis Machinea said many current data were not comparable. For instance, statistics did not include the thousands of private cybercafés across the developing world. Current data also compared ICT per capita expenditures in rich and poor countries without taking into account that ICT goods are much more expensive in developing countries.

Harnessing ICT for Africa’s socio-economic development

The challenges of building capacity and promoting job creation in information and communication technologies (ICT) in Africa were discussed in a panel hosted by Oracle. Joseph Alhadeff, VP for Global Public Policy at the company, pointed out that skill creation is a multi-stakeholder activity that requires close collaboration between the private sector, government, the donor community, academia and civil society. This collaboration, he said, allows countries to better understand and address the needs of their population, taking advantage of scarce resources.

Sharing expertise and best practices is essential to promote development, said Desi Lopez, Managing Director, Oracle African Operations. ICT, including radio, television and the Internet, provide channels to disseminate information and share best practices among communities. Oracle, in collaboration with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), has launched several initiatives to increase literacy and build ICT capacity in Africa. The goal is to allow young people in Africa access to education through ICT.

Satellite communications in the information society

Private/public sector dialogue on bridging the digital divide through broadband satellite solutions was the objective of a workshop held this morning, organized by the Global VSAT Forum in collaboration with the European-funded Mobile Satellite Specific Support Action project. The event was attended by organizations including the European Satellite Operators Association (ESOA), the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the Colombian Mission to the United Nations in Vienna. It discussed key enabling strategies for ICT access solutions via satellite – in particular, GEO occupancy and satellite-terrestrial hybrid technologies. A number of initiatives from the private sector were highlighted in order to determine how current satellite technology advances can provide broadband applications, how industry can contribute to advancing the policy and regulatory dialogue and how low-cost solutions can be deployed in a sustainable manner.

The workshop was chaired by Julián Seseña, Executive VP, ROSE Vision and correspondent for the Global VSAT Forum, and recommended the formation of satellite partnerships for ICT applications and services, particularly for deployment in under-served areas of the world. There is a growing need for research and development in low-cost solutions that can cater to users in remote and sparsely populated areas.

Concerted efforts should also be made to ensure that satellite communications are combined effectively with terrestrial network solutions, such as WiMax and 3G.

World Electronic Media Forum gets under way

What is the role of electronic media in the digital age? The World Electronic Media Forum (WEMF) took a close look at this role today. Over the next two days, broadcasters and decision-makers from around the globe will grapple with the key issues – economic, ethical and civic – confronting public and private media practitioners. WEMF will present messages to WSIS through UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Shashi Tharoor, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, pointed to two main concerns - the "content divide", and issues surrounding freedom of expression. Whether we look at television, radio or the Internet, what passed for global media, remained, in reality, the media of the developed West, where most of the world’s Internet hosts reside, he said. "Access to the Internet is growing but is of little value if the bulk of the information that it reveals is in a language you don’t understand or if it fails to deal with life and death questions that affect your family or your society," he noted. Turning to press freedom, Mr Tharoor acknowledged that the Internet, the "medium without a passport" posed challenges to all governments as they sought to find a legal environment that fostered freedom of expression without trampling on other legitimate rights.

Robert Rabinovitch, CEO of Radio Canada, stated that value, choice and speed were the new mantras in a world where the consumer was king. But only public broadcasters could afford to take the risks that private broadcasters could not: content should contribute to culture, social responsibility and ultimately democracy. Ihron Rensburg, President of South African Broadcasting, also argued to strengthen the pathfinding role and editorial independence of State broadcasters and thereby combat narrow nationalism. Guillaume Chenevière, President CMRTV, advocated a broadcasters’ code of conduct for ethical standards.

Discussion also focused on the role of the media in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Jose Maria Ocampo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, underlined that the digital divide was not simply a matter of how many computers were connected to how many networks; it had to do with the training needed for individuals and communities. Promoting the MDGs involves increasing pro-development knowledge and skills. The Director of the Swiss Development Agency decried the media of the developed world, which forgot the "killers of development" such as conflict, HIV/AIDS and economic inequities.

At a press conference on the stakes of the Tunis phase of WSIS and the World Electronic Media Forum (WEMF), Mr Tharoor stated that freedom of the medium was in everyone’s interest. The idea of an Internet Governance Forum was gaining ground and, if invited by Member States to do so, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stood ready to play "whatever role" was required to assist the process. Finally, on funding, Mr Tharoor said that digital solidarity primarily depended on the willingness of Member States to lift poor countries out of the digital divide. The Digital Solidarity Fund launched by developing countries to engage community-level action is a positive step forward.

Schoolnet with Nane Annan

Nane Annan, the United Nations "first lady", joined students from Cameroon, Kenya, the United Kingdom and France in a live video chat over the Internet about the challenges girls confront in secondary education. Witnessing the participation of about 100 students from Cumbria, Montpellier, Nairobi and Yaounde, the event aimed to demonstrate how new technologies can help to bridge the digital divide and build understanding among countries.

A multilingual Internet

A round table session, organized by ACALAN and the e-Africa Commission/NEPAD under the auspices of the African Union, discussed how to enable a multilingual cyberspace in order to ensure the participation of all in the information society. A number of organizations presented initiatives undertaken around the world to close the multilingual divide. The presentations highlighted some of the main problems related to multilingualism, with information gathered in a meeting held in Bamako, Mali earlier this year serving as a basis for the initial discussions.

The importance of local languages online was emphasized. As local language is part of a person’s identity, people are unable to properly engage in decision-making when they do not have the possibility to communicate in their language. While some speakers brought forward the importance of making it technically possible to have computer operating systems and online search engines available in local languages and to promote the creation of local content as crucial steps towards a cyberspace that is accessible to all, others looked more closely at policy-related issues.

Gender Caucus – ICT and Women’s Human Rights

Under the overall WSIS Gender Caucus slogan: "Towards Gender Inclusion in the Global Information Society" the Caucus launched a debate on ICT and Women’s Human Rights. The debate brought together delegates from Africa, Latin America, United States and Canada, Europe, Asia to discuss how information and communication technologies have advanced or damaged gender equality.

Speakers presented both the positive and the negative impact of ICT on women’s human rights. The positive aspects included ICT for information-exchange and empowerment; and ICT enabling women to communicate and thus allowing their opinions, needs and wants to be heard by a wider public, even beyond national borders. The negative aspects touched upon sexual exploitation and privacy intrusion, providing convincing arguments for how ICT have continuously eroded the rights of women.

All agreed that ICT are here to stay, and will continue creating immense changes to everyone's lives, allowing issues that have existed in the "real" world for a long time to now be felt also in the "virtual" world. All concurred that ICTs can improve women’s human rights if properly incorporated into national policies and development projects. The Gender Caucus participants and other interest groups stressed the need for a "Gender Strategy". Developing a code of ethics for the use of ICT, and promoting this code worldwide, would be another important step forward.




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