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Regional Meetings for World Summit on Information Society in High Gear
Information Society Holds Promise of Eliminating Human Communication Barriers

Geneva, 14 January 2003 - The vision of a 'virtual' future, in which information and communication technologies help overcome the barriers of time, distance, culture and language is the promise of the information society. "As global broadband networks become cheaper, faster and more accessible these barriers to human communication will be eliminated." Mr Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, made his remarks to delegates of the Asia-Pacific Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Summit on the Information Society in Tokyo. The meeting is the third of six regional meetings scheduled to gather input for the Summit scheduled for later this year.

Mr Utsumi noted that while information and communication technologies (ICTs) can remove the boundaries that keep humanity apart, many people in the world are deprived of access to information and to the tools for using it. "Until we address the injustices of this 'digital divide', we cannot embrace the promise of cyberspace with a clear conscience." He added that the World Summit on the Information Society to be held in Geneva, 10-12 December 2003 and in Tunis in 2005, is a unique opportunity to develop a shared vision of tomorrow's information society while managing the problems of today's information society.

A Global Political Imperative

Despite the fact that activities based around the creation, processing and dissemination of information already account for more than 80 per cent of employment in the developed world, "in the mind of political leaders, issues concerning ICTs are not yet high on their political agenda," said Mr Utsumi. However, for developing countries, the dawn of the information society poses the opportunity to leapfrog ahead; to be free of the constraints imposed by the distribution of natural resources or the terms of trade.

Information and communication technologies can also assist in nation building for those countries emerging from a troubled history. "We must help our political leaders develop a common vision of how to turn these challenges into opportunities, by using ICTs." The World Summit on the Information Society will emphasize policy issues in the field of information and communication technologies (ICTs), which require the attention of the world's political leaders.

A Global Market Mismatch

While televisions, radio, fixed-line telephones and mobile are well distributed; the Internet remains the most uneven of all the major global networks. There are more than 500 million Internet users worldwide, but 80 percent of them are in the developed world. In the developing world, only one in every 50 people have Internet access compared with two out of every five in the developed world. "The problems we face are a mismatch of supply and demand. The supply is in the developed world while the demand is in the developing world," remarked Mr Utsumi. The Summit will assist the industry, which has excessive capacity in the developed world, to identify market opportunities that exist in the developing world.

The Summit 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 (PREPCOMs). PREPCOMs will be attended by governmental representatives and other parties concerned, including representatives of the UN specialized agencies, the private sector, civil society and NGOs. Regional conferences have also been organized to address the specific concerns, needs and priorities of the various regions. The following regional meetings have been or will be held to prepare for the Summit:

· African Regional Conference - Bamako (Mali) 28-30 May 2002
· Pan European Regional Conference - Bucharest (Romania) 7-9 November 2002
· Asia-Pacific Regional Conference - Tokyo (Japan) 13-15 January 2003
· Latin America/Caribbean Regional Conference - Bávaro (Dominican Republic) 29-31 January 2003
· Western Asia Preparatory Conference - Beirut (Lebanon) 4-6 February 2003
· League of Arab States Regional Conference - Cairo (Egypt) June 2003

For more information on the Summit and the Preparatory process consult the website at www.itu.int/wsis

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