Global Information Society Summit Spurs Solidarity, Alliances:
Hard Work, Action Ahead
Press conference, World Summit on the Information SocietyGeneva,
12 December 2003
Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and
Secretary-General of the Summit
With the unanimous endorsement by the world's political leaders of the Declaration of Principles and Action Plan today, the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society has achieved its objectives.
The meeting was envisioned as a catalyst for dialogue and debate across all groups and countries. It also serves as a springboard for further action. It has unquestionably met those goals.
The over 50 heads of state, vice-presidents or other political leaders here this week testify to a resounding collective will to raise awareness at the highest political level and to gain commitment to bring the benefits of today's powerful information and communications technologies to all of humanity and harness and shape their use for a better world. Those are the Summit's key goals.
ICTs are an agent of change. They can boost health, education and employment through the opportunities they bring via telemedicine, e-learning and local economic development. The Declaration of Principles political leaders endorsed are the values a truly inclusive information society must embrace and foster. The Action Plan spells out tangible, concrete targets to turn this vision into reality. Already, the cross-sectoral dialogue that was established in the Summit process has triggered action that will inevitably ripple across the world and grow in scope and scale.
The agreed vision of an information society is founded on universally embraced ideas like universal ICT access, enabling environments, capacity building and respect for multilingual and diverse content.
Such powerful ideas require commitment and collaboration at the highest political level. Infrastructure cannot be laid without pro-investment policies and agencies to guarantee their fair and equitable use, nor universal access policies to ensure that ICT tools reach those who need them most.
The 10,000 delegates from all walks of life and corners of the world that came together this week reflect a broad and deep commitment to these higher principles and a strong desire to move things ahead.
Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the Summit has been the spirit of cooperation that has permeated all processes.
Collectively government representatives overcame obstacles because they believed in the need to forge consensus on the shared values of tomorrow's e-society.
But now the hard work begins. The overarching goal of the Action plan is to put ICTs at the service of higher goals of social and economic development, with follow-on targets of connecting all villages, schools, hospitals and governments by 2015.
Broadly speaking, the areas outlined in the Action plan where we must concentrate our effort are the following.
First, multi-stakeholder cooperation and partnerships are crucial to an information society because each sector is an essential link in a complex supply and shaping chain through which an information society can be forged. Key to triggering the process is e-strategies, or plans by government to move things forward and tangible ways to measure them.
Governments bring pro-investment policies that in turn encourages industry to supply parts, services and expertise; media contributes content, civil society decides on its use. One example of a successful multi-stake holder partnership include the announcement by ITU, CISCO and the World Health Organization to create a global health and technology network for health promotion and disease prevention.
Second, a well-developed and accessible infrastructure is the cornerstone of an empowered information society. The Action Plan proposes that governments pursue universal access policies, connectivity indicators, public-private partnerships, and wireless infrastructure in underserved areas. One example of an action announced this week that underscores infrastructure development is the US government's $400,000 grant through its Overseas Private Investment Corporation to help spur infrastructure development in underserved economies.
Next, access to infrastructure is key for bringing the benefits of ICTs to all. Actions include establishing public Internet access centres; facilitating the use of open source software, the adoption of policies that encourage affordable connectivity.
One interesting initiative announced this week is the Bhutan E-Post project. For faster, cheaper and more reliable communication to remote, mountainous areas of Bhutan, the Government of India will help deliver e-post services to the Bhutanese Postal Service via a USD400,000 a V-satellite network and solar panels power system. The partnership included ITU, Bhutan Telecom and Post, Worldspace and Encore India.
Without e-literacy and teacher-training in ICT use and courses, powerful ICT tools would be of little use. Therefore, we need to build human capacity by the integration of ICTs into school courses, e-literacy training particularly with least-developed countries.
One notable alliance announced at WSIS is the global e-School project by the UN ICT Task Force with Ireland, Sweden, Canada and Switzerland to connect schools and communities in the developing world. The first wave, which will begin immediately will cost 80 million $US.
Another is the partnership with Hewlett-Packard which will provide low-cost products that will help overcome the illiteracy barrier to ICT. Handwritten texts for example will be recognized for e-mail transmission. Microsoft, working with UNDP, will provide a billion dollar programme over 5 years to bring ICT skills to underserved communities.
But even with an e-trained population if communities shy away from the Internet over fears of privacy invasion and data theft, training can go wry. That is why boosting confidence and security in ICT use must be integrated into other aspects of the Action Plan.
Proposals include trans-sectoral and boundary cooperation over pressing issues like SPAM and cyber-security.
The EU's EUR3.6 billion programme, announced this week, to boost research across the region into the "future generation of ICTs" speaks to that need. A focus is solving trust and confidence problems to improve dependability of technologies, infrastructures and applications.
An enabling environment is key to spurring investment in ICTs and their use one infrastructure is laid. Its pillars include rule of law and national oversight agencies to step in when users or service providers overstep, and - since so many issues cross borders today - encourage global cooperation. The working group proposed to study Internet Governance speaks to that need.
The availability of applications in all areas is key to ensuring that ICTs serve higher goals including health, environmental protection, commerce and science. Ideas to harness ICTs full potential include government-backed content development schemes, secure and private online health information systems, and pro-telework policies.
An example of such an initiative is Turkey's Ministry of Health and ITU's joint project to boost health services and information across the vast and varied country by electronic means. A focus of the multi-million dollar project is supplying citizens with easy and secure health records and appointments over the Internet plus tele-consultations and remote monitoring services in less developed areas.
And, finally, financing for ICT development. It is not enough to stimulate attention. Commitments must be backed by resources. Enabling environments, universal access policies and channeling more effectively available funding are a start.
Two years of hard work lie ahead to show that the vision of the Information Society that we endorse today is on the right path. The second phase of the Summit will take place in Tunisia in November of 2005 and will measure the ambitious goals set this week. With Phase 1 of WSIS coming to a close, the real work begins.
I will be happy to take your questions now.