International Telecommunication Union today launched a major new development
drive designed to bring access to information and communication technologies (ICTs)
to the estimated one billion people worldwide for whom making a simple telephone
call remains out of reach.
Called Connect the World, the initiative is a global multi-stakeholder
effort established within the context of the World Summit on the Information
Society (WSIS) to encourage new projects and partnerships to bridge the digital
divide. By showcasing development efforts now underway and by identifying areas
where needs are the most pressing, Connect the World will create a critical mass
that will generate the momentum needed to connect all communities by 2015. At
present, ITU estimates that around 800’000 villages — or 30% of all villages
worldwide — are still without any kind of connection.
Connect the World places strong emphasis on the importance of
partnerships between the public and private sectors, UN agencies and civil
society. It has 22 founding partners, including leading corporate
players such as Alcatel, Huawei, Intel, Microsoft, KDDI, Telefónica, Infosys and
WorldSpace, whose CEOs have all embraced the goals of the initiative.
Partners also include governments and government agencies including Egypt, France,
Senegal and the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion (KADO),
regional and international organizations including UNESCO, the Universal Postal
Union (UPU), the European Commission, the International Telecommunication
Satellite Organization, RASCOM and the United Nations Fund for International
Partnerships (UNFIP), as well as a range of organizations from civil society
including Télécoms Sans Frontières, the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation and
Child Helpline International.
The initiative comprises three key Building Blocks — Enabling Environment,
Infrastructure & Readiness, and Applications & Services — which together
constitute the primary areas that need to be addressed when developing concrete
measures to accelerate ICT development. All Connect the World founding
partners have current development projects in one or more of these areas. They
will be encouraged to develop new partnerships and initiatives, while additional
partners will be actively sought in areas not adequately covered to ensure
underserved communities get what they need where it’s needed most.
Speaking at a press conference to launch the initiative at UN headquarters in
Geneva, ITU Secretary-General Mr Yoshio Utsumi spoke of the urgent need to
connect those still deprived of ready access to ICTs.
"It is time to stop regarding access to ICTs as a privilege available to the
rich few within a country, and the rich few countries in the world," said Utsumi.
"ICTs now underpin just about every aspect of modern life. They are basic
infrastructure, as necessary to economic and social development as postal
services, banks, medical centres and schools."
At present, the 942 million people living in the world’s developed economies
enjoy five times better access to fixed and mobile phone services, nine times
better access to Internet services, and own 13 times more PCs than the 85% of
the world’s population living in low and lower-middle income countries.
But while figures do show a clear improvement over the last ten years in
bridging the gap between information "haves" and "have-nots", they nonetheless
fail to paint a true picture for many rural dwellers, whose communities are
still often unserved by any form of ICT.
"It is not ICTs that will solve the problem of the digital divide, it is
people and especially people working in partnership. So while
Connect the World is about harnessing the power of ICTs, it’s also about
harnessing the power of people working together to connect the unconnected,"
said ITU’s Utsumi.
By providing an international platform to showcase the many innovative and
successful development initiatives already underway, ITU hopes Connect the
World will spur organizations at every level to get actively involved in
development. "Every Connect the World partner is currently working to
make a real difference. I applaud their efforts, and hope the projects they are
showcasing within this initiative will serve to stimulate new partnerships and
inspire others to join us and to launch their own development activities," said
For more information on the Connect the World initiative, including
the Connect the World Factsheet, full details of Connect the World
partner projects, and a selection of photos of projects and leaders of
participating organizations, click here.