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World Telecommunication Development Conference adopts comprehensive Action Plan to bridge the Digital Divide

Awareness, Accessibility and Affordability singled out as key factors

Istanbul, 27 March 2002 — The world’s largest and highest-level global conference on development telecommunications drew to a close last night, with 1150 delegates from 152 countries adopting the Istanbul Declaration and Action Plan. International Telecommunication Union’s third World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-02) was attended by 394 government delegates, representatives from 56 regulatory authorities, 45 operators, 23 scientific and industrial organizations and 22 regional and international organizations.

The 10-day conference at the Istanbul Conference and Exhibition Centre (ICEC) focused on new strategies which can be deployed to improve the level of access to telecommunications throughout the developing world. The Conference reviewed current major policy issues, determined actions to narrow the Digital Divide, adopted a common vision and strategy for achieving a balanced telecommunication development, setting goals and objectives for the next four years. It also adopted an Action Plan for development partners addressed to both governments and private sector for the years 2003 to 2006. The Conference also considered financing and innovative forms of cooperation.

The multi-pronged Istanbul Action Plan adopted by the Conference underlines the leading role which ITU can play in "Bridging the Digital Divide" with its inclusive membership base of 189 Member States and nearly 670 private sector, public organizations and regional and international organizations.

The Action Plan has the needed elements to make it possible to fast-track ITU’s objectives of bridging the Digital Divide in all its dimensions — technical, societal and economic — and to harness the power of ICTs for socio-economic development of the widest number of people, particularly the world’s most deprived.

Based on six programmes, the Plan seeks to empower all stakeholders in telecoms development to enable them to bring applications and services for the benefit of all whether it be through capacity and competency-building in regulatory matters, relevant technology and ICTs solutions, human resource development, information sharing, mutually reinforcing financing schemes or simply greater awareness of the potential of ICTs.

It also strives to reduce access costs to facilitate the greatest number of people possible to cross the Digital Divide. It prescribes a number of measures: encouraging manufacturers to develop appropriate technology scaleable to broadband applications and having a low operating and maintenance cost, promoting community-access in rural and underserved areas; encouraging the development of a low-cost high-quality ICT customer terminal that can be directly connected to the legacy networks supporting the Internet and Internet applications, so that economies of scale can be achieved on account of their acceptability at the global level. A study on a workable and enforceable universal access funding mechanism was also agreed.

While the six programmes of the Action Plan all converge towards that ultimate goal, the brand new programme on e-strategies specifically focuses on bringing applications to people that will improve their standards of living in a sustainable way and contribute towards poverty eradication. The e-strategies programme aims at improving the quality of life of men and women in particular in low-income rural and underserved areas through community access, building good governance or offering better access to a wider range of socio-economic services such as e-education and e-health. The programme also seeks to integrate the development of the telecommunication infrastructure with the deployment of IP and value-added e-services.

Throughout the conference, delegations stressed the the need to:

  • develop larger scale partnerships, whether public/private, public-public and South-South, for implementing strategies for ICT development,
  • enhance cooperation particularly with regional organizations and private sector and to reinforce and support regional ICTs for-development initiatives, such as Africa’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Connectivity Agenda initiative of Latin America in a bid to build powerful synergies and
  • increase available resources for telecoms development and direct a greater share to Least Developed Countries through aggressive resource mobilization.

In his closing remarks, Mr Hamadoun Touré, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, told delegates that the commitment made at Istanbul was the beginning of a new era. Quoting Lord Keynes, he said "the difficulty lies not in new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones. The time is ripe, we must escape and focus not on Digital Divide but on Digital Opportunities." He said that the digital age represented a new frontier of human accomplishment and that its locus resided in all countries. "Broadband wireless communications coupled with converging technologies have revolutionized access to information", he said. "Now, let the conclusions of this conference truly mark the birth of the "digital" baby. If we all commit ourselves to the conclusions of this Conference, the low teledensities in least and developing countries can be tripled or even quadrupled before our next World Telecommunication Development Conference, Internet penetration will reach at least 25 percent of the population and every school will be wired or unwired, making information accessible to every child in the world."

Mr. Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary General of the ITU, expressed hope that the output of the work and effort of the conference would be productive and result in concrete and tangible benefits to the needy of the world. "You should leave this conference with motivation to bridge the Digital Divide and determination to extend tele-access to all villages by the time of the World Summit on the Information Society," he said.

As the first person to have chaired two major ITU world conferences, the Chairman of the Conference, Fatih Yurdal of the Turkish Telecommunication Authority became the first to receive a gold medal from the ITU. Receiving it at the hands of ITU’s Secretary General, he said "the Digital Divide continues to be a serious problem, particularly for LDCs, and ITU’s Telecommunication Development Sector is an important platform that tackles this problem with a coherent and comprehensive package. With WTDC, the Digital Divide of today may be converted to Digital Opportunity."

For a more detailed report on the Istanbul Declaration and Action Plan, please click here.

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