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Global Strategy for the Information Society Takes Successful First Steps

‘E-inclusion’ stressed by all at First Preparatory Committee Meeting

Geneva, 5 July 2002 — The first Preparatory Committee Meeting (PrepCom 1) of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) completed its work today with broad agreement that the stakeholders must coordinate and consolidate their efforts to ensure that information and communication technologies (ICTs) benefit all the inhabitants of the world.

Mr Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of ITU, told the more than 950 delegates representing 141 governments, as well as numerous international agencies, and business and civil society groups, that together they could create "a common understanding of the Information Society and the action plan necessary to harness the power of ICTs to eradicate poverty and to create a more just, prosperous and peaceful world."

The World Summit on the Information Society will be held under the high patronage of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with ITU taking the lead role in preparations. The first phase will be held in Geneva 10-12 December 2003 and the second phase in Tunis in 2005. The Summit began as an initiative of the 1998 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference when it was recognized that the gap between information "haves" and "have nots" was increasing while at the same time telecommunications were playing an increasingly important role at the political, economic, social and cultural level.

The anticipated outcome of the Summit is to develop a clear statement of political will and a concrete plan of action for achieving the goals of the Information Society, while fully reflecting all the different interests at stake.

An Information Society Milestone

In order for the Summit to be a milestone in the development of the Information Society, Mr Utsumi added it must be a true meeting of minds, bringing together all stakeholders, from both the developed and developing world. "I am happy to report that following the first Preparatory Meeting, I believe we are well on our way to achieving this goal." However, he cautioned that much work remains to be done in order for the Summit to provide a unique opportunity for Heads of State, UN agencies, the business sector, NGOs and Civil Society to draw up a concrete and clear action plan for improving access to ICTs in order that the ‘Digital Divide’ may be converted into a ‘Digital Opportunity’ that can and will be implemented by all of the stakeholders.

The Summit must look beyond technology and focus on applications. "The issue is not just to find a way to provide more computers or more telephones, but to extend access to information, to focus on how ICTs can be used to achieve broader social and economic goals, such as the eradication of poverty." Mr Utsumi noted that this could only be achieved if Heads of State, UN agencies, NGOs and Civil Society make a commitment to work together. It is up to states to "develop national policies and regulatory frameworks which will lay the foundations for all of their citizens to benefit from ICTs." He said the inclusion of the business sector was essential, "as it is a main user of ICTs and instrumental in creating the material conditions that will lay the foundations for all of their citizens to benefit from ICTs". As well, civil society, "by virtue of its diversity and hands-on approach to development issues, is a key player in the information society." And he called on the international organizations, "to exercise their ability to act as a catalyst for change by bringing together all of the stakeholders."

The need for cooperation and collaboration between all stakeholders was reinforced by the President of the Plenary Mr Adama Samassekou, President of the African Academy of Languages and the former Minister of Education in Mali, who said that he was proud to be a representing Africa in the preparatory process, "But I am equally proud to be representing all of the regions of the world as well as all of those who have a stake in the Information Society."

Establishing the Rules for Success

The World Summit on the Information Society has already achieved historic status, in that it is being organized by a number of agencies rather than a single agency. A High-Level Summit Organizing Committee (HLSOC) has been established to coordinate the efforts of the UN system in the preparation, organization and holding of WSIS. The HLSOC is composed of a Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General and Executive Heads of the following UN specialized agencies: FAO, IAEA, ICAO, ILO, IMO, ITU, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UPU, WHO, WIPO, WMO. It also comprises the Director-General of WTO, the Executive Director of UNITAR, the Executive Secretaries of the UN Regional Economic Commissions and the President of the World Bank. The Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union serves as Chairman of the HLSOC. This inclusive approach was done in order to better reflect the reality of the Information Society and to ensure that fundamental principles were established, met and adhered to.

These guiding principles for the Summit were endorsed during the Preparatory Meeting with the adoption of the rules of procedure and participation following much positive effort on the part of all stakeholders. These principles include:

  • Transparency at all levels
  • Information Access and Sharing
  • Opportunities to present ideas, arguments and positions
  • Openness in discussion

The input of the NGOs, Civil Society and Business Sector will be given equal status, with all written submissions welcomed on the basis of the Summit themes. These submissions will be published on the WSIS website and widely circulated before the second Preparatory Committee Meeting. All stakeholders will then be able to discuss the contents and to hold workshops and meetings in order to coordinate their positions. In addition a number of multi-stakeholder thematic roundtables will be organized, the outcome of which will be submitted to the preparatory committee and incorporated in its records. For the complete report of the Subcommittee on Rules of Procedure consult the WSIS website.

Themes, Issues and Outcomes

The First Preparatory Committee Meeting began its work on determining the agenda, themes and outcomes for the World Summit on the Information Society. This work will continue through the preparatory process, however, a list of possible topics has been defined which focus on the expected outcomes for a vision of the information society, access to ICTs and applications that will extend their benefits to all. A complete list of possible themes is available on the WSIS website. However, they include:

The Vision

  • Opening the Gates
    • Freedom of expression and of the media
    • Meeting the needs of the developing world
    • Access to information/knowledge
  • Developing a Framework
    • The roles of government, the private sector and civil society in shaping the Information Society
    • Intellectual property rights
    • Data protection, privacy and network security

Access

  • Building the Infrastructure
    • The role of telecommunications, investment and technology
    • Bridges between digital media: radio, television, press and Internet
    • Wireless technologies
  • The Needs of the User
    • Consumer protection and privacy
    • The gender perspective
    • Affordability

Applications

  • Services and Applications
    • ICT for government, empowerment and democracy
    • E-health
    • The implications of the Information Society for economic, social and cultural development
  • ICTs and Education
    • ICTs as a lever for educational change
    • ICTs, teachers, learners and content
    • User training

The Preparatory Process

The World Summit on the Information Society will be the outcome of a wide variety of inputs, including previous meetings, existing action plans of the various partners involved and inputs from the Preparatory Committees of the Summit. Regional conferences, thematic and expert meetings are also an important part of the process. Two more Preparatory Committee meetings are scheduled. These are:

  • PrepCom 2 — Geneva 24 March — 4 April 2003 (tentative)
  • PrepCom 3 — Third quarter 2003 (tentative)

Regional Conferences:

  • Africa — Bamako 25—30 May 2002
  • Europe — Bucharest 7—9 November 2002
  • Asia Pacific — Tokyo 2003
  • Latin America & Caribbean 2003

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