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World Telecommunication Leaders Told Global Policy Needed
1.5 million Villages Remain Unconnected to Information Society

Marrakesh, 23 September 2002 — The Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Morocco, H.E. Abderrahamane El Youssoufi opened the 16th Plenipotentiary Conference of the International Telecommunication Union by asking delegates, particularly those from the developed world, "who have an interest in the stability and economic development of African countries to rush to help them to integrate into the new economic environment where telecommunications and information are two main pillars."

Mr Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of ITU, reinforced this message by telling 1 000 of the world’s telecommunication leaders gathered in Morocco that "a concerted global policy effort is needed to eliminate the gap between rich and poor when it comes to the flow of, and access to information." He noted that while telecom capacity grew by 200 times between 1995 and 2000, "1.5 million villages in the world still lack a basic telephone connection and these could be connected for less than the price paid for a third-generation mobile license in the developed countries that are already well-served."

Raising the necessary capital to connect these villages will require innovative strategies but the telecommunication leaders were challenged to make bold suggestions for a global policy during their four-week conference that will provide connectivity to every village on the globe by the time of the World Summit on the Information Society. Mr Utsumi stated, "it is up to us to reach the unreached and to bring the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to all of the world’s people."

His Excellency the Secretary of State for Posts, Telecommunication and Information Technologies, H.E. Nasr Hajji called on the ITU to expand its activities "with a common view of developing public and private partnerships that will support this new economic reality." He cited the example of Morocco, where telecommunication market liberalization, based on a controlled regulatory framework, has led to extraordinary results. The number of mobile phones in Morocco has increased from 150 000 in 1999 to more than 6 million today. "Morocco has achieved this by taking full advantage of the convergence of information technologies. Our ‘E-Morocco’ strategy is to focus on a global and integrated approach in the field of information and communication technologies."

Information — A Basic Human Need

Information has the power to dispel ignorance and to empower those who are oppressed by it. It also has the power to bind the global community into a cohesive fraternity, which shares the common ideals of peace and tolerance, growth and development. While humanity’s basic needs have long been food, clothing and shelter, "the time has come to add information to the list," stated Mr Utsumi who added that while it would tax the powers of the greatest oracle to see into the future of telecommunications, one thing is certain. "Communications, whether it is information technology, IP-based, mobile or fixed, is at the crux of the current evolution of the global society."

Minister Hajji agreed, noting that Morocco "remains firm in its conviction that it is these new technologies that represent the fundamental and indisputable driving force underpinning the success of all economic and social activities." He added that with each passing day the impact of new technologies "has resulted in the creation of an information and knowledge based society that stands in ever sharper contrast to the industrial society."

Demand outstrips Supply in Developing World

In the year 2000 alone, the telecommunications industry invested more than 200 billion US dollars worldwide, but the financial and social dividends have been far from optimal, because we were ‘super-serving’ the rich few, and failing to provide basic services to the many. However, statistics show that demand outstrips supply in the developing world. Three out of four new telephone users connected each year are in the developing world. As well, there are ten times more potential Internet users in the developing world than in the developed world.

Minister Hajji assured the delegates that "the time is right to enable the Arab countries and the African continent to make a direct transition from developing status, to sustainable development through active participation in the information and knowledge-based society."

ITU to Embrace Radical and Bold Reform

In the new information society, where information is key to economic, social and cultural development, Mr Utsumi told delegates from ITU’s 189 Member States that "ITU must play a pivotal role. It must provide a global policy perspective and wholehearted support for the battle against the tyranny of ignorance." However, he added that if ITU is to contribute to the evolution and flow of information to every part of the globe, "we will have to make radical and bold reforms, we cannot afford to lose ourselves in endless debates. ITU must lead the charge to bring digital opportunities to all."

His Excellency, Prime Minister El Youssoufi lent his support to a new direction for ITU by saying that Morocco, like many developing countries, has worked hard to keep up with technological innovation and to adapt to the rapid changes in telecommunications. "We have relied on our own human and financial resources not to fall prey to the digital divide which is creating barriers between nations and within countries." But he warned that the need for international development cooperation and partnerships in information and communication technology is especially critical at time "when the world is characterized by crisis and strife."

The full text of the speeches is available here.

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