ITU Secretary-General Opens First Global Information Summit
Calls on World Leaders to Bring Benefits of Information to All
Geneva, 10 December — ITU Secretary-General and Secretary-General of the Summit Yoshio Utsumi appealed to world leaders to share the bounty of powerful information and communication technologies (ICT) with the most impoverished economies, and to shape their use for a better world.
“Today, information is a source of power and a route to riches. God gave us the power to see and hear. Our parents and teachers taught us to read and write and to use information to make sense of the world around us. Now, the power of information and communication technology is removing the boundaries of time and space, which have long kept us apart,” he said at the opening of the World Summit on the Information Society.
“But too many people in the world are deprived of access to information and to the tools for accessing it. Until we address the injustices of the digital divide, we cannot embrace the promise of cyberspace with a clear conscience. The Summit provides us with a unique opportunity to develop a shared vision of the emerging information society while addressing today’s problems.”
The mass of information and knowledge increasingly at our disposal should serve some greater purpose like peace, democracy and freedom, Mr Utsumi added.
With 54 countries poorer than they were in 1990, ICTs have a key role to play in creating a more prosperous world.
For the next three days, leaders from government, science, civil society, industry and media will work tirelessly to forge global commitments on ways to harness today’s powerful tools for pressing global needs like illiteracy and poverty.
The summit organized under the patronage of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is spearheaded by the UN’s telecommunication agency — the International Telecommunication Union.
“From trade to telemedicine, from education to environmental protection, we have in our hands, on our desktops and in the skies above the ability to improve standards of living for millions upon millions of people. But an open, inclusive information society that benefits all people will not emerge without sustained commitment and investment. We look to you, the leaders assembled here, to produce those acts of political will,” Mr Annan said.
Political leaders from more than 175 countries are gathering at the Summit from December 10-12 to endorse a shared vision in the Declaration of Principles and to commit to a Plan of Action which will lay out a roadmap for targets and benchmarks to turn this vision into reality.
Goals include connecting all villages, schools, hospitals and governments with ICT by 2015 and ensuring that half of the world’s people are within reach of ICT. Roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders including government and industry are outlined in the plan.
These commitments, it is hoped, will help meet goals set by Heads of State at the Millennium Summit including combating poverty, disease, homelessness, environmental degradation and gender inequality.
The Declaration recognizes the pressing need for universal ICT access and the widespread infrastructure on which it is founded. It also points to enabling environments as essential for wider technology access and use and underscores that strong capacity building efforts are needed to achieve universal access. The widespread availability of low-cost applications plus respect for multilingual, diverse and culturally appropriate content are endorsed as well.
Delegates agreed on all issues, including intellectual property rights, Internet governance, financing for ICT development, human rights and freedom of expression that have been the subject of hot debate.
At the Summit’s start, more than 12,000 delegates from all sectors were accredited. This week, some 200 events will be held in parallel, by scientific organizations, industry, civil society and aid agencies to showcase projects bridging the “Digital Divide” — or a gap in ICT access between the world’s richest and poorest economies — and to forge practical partnerships.
As the Summit began, speakers at the opening ceremony underscored WSIS’s unique opportunity to accelerate positive technological, regulatory and economic forces already underway and boosting quality of life in heretofore unconnected economies, and applauded WSIS spirit of cooperation and consensus.
“Over the last decade, access to the telephone network (fixed and mobile) has tripled. In particular, the mobile communications network has grown, in less than 20 years, to reach more than one and a quarter billion people worldwide,” said Mr Utsumi. This offers hope for the 97% of Africans without access to telecommunications of any kind. But though the digital divide, as a whole, is diminishing, access to new technologies like broadband and the mobile Internet is actually getting worse.
WSIS works to close that divide and ensure that no new ones emerge, to ensure that ICTs serve higher global goals, and to build confidence, trust and security in today’s powerful ICT tools.
The World Summit on the Information Society provides a unique opportunity for all key stakeholders to develop a common vision and understanding and to address the whole range of relevant issues related to the Information Society. It aims to bring together Heads of State and Government, Executive Heads of the United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, civil society entities, industry leaders and media representatives to foster a clear statement of political will and concrete plan of action to shape the future of the global information society and to promote the urgently needed access of all countries to information, knowledge and communication technologies for development.
The Summit has been endorsed by the UN General Assembly and will take place under the high patronage of Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, with the International Telecommunication Union taking the lead role in its preparation.
The Summit will be held in two phases: Geneva (10-12 December 2003) and Tunisia (16-18 November 2005).