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 NEWSROOM : FIRST PHASE, GENEVA : PREPCOM-2 : DAILY HIGHLIGHTS
 Wednesday, 19 February 2003

The second day of multi-stakeholder roundtables was held. The roundtables are an informal, but vital part of PrepCom-2 providing a platform for the exchange of a broad range of views relevant to the information society. The outcome of multi-stakeholder roundtables will be reported to the plenary meeting of the PrepCom-2. The roundtable presentations can be viewed here and the audio web casts are archived at here.

Framing the Network: Legal and Regulatory Aspects

Mr Amadeu Abril of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) told participants that the Internet offers many possibilities, but questions still remain on how we balance legislation and self-regulation, creativity and the dissemination of information, and who are the enforcers of the rules. The Web does not stop at geographical boundaries, he noted, whereas laws can only be applied in the country where they are valid.

Cooperation is the key, was the message of Mr Jean-François Soupizet of the European Commission. “To liberalize and to harmonize” should be among the common objectives of countries as they cooperate to build their regulatory frameworks for cyberspace. He also warned that over-regulating would result in a heavy burden on operators.

Mr Abdou Abbas Sarr of Réseau Droit et Etoile (Côte d’Ivoire) cited the case of a disgruntled employee who destroyed his company’s databases by means of a virus, but could not be prosecuted because national laws did not penalize damage to “information”, only to material property. Governments – particularly in developing countries - need to be persuaded to enter fully into the information society. He also pointed out that developing countries, where the economic reality of ICTs is not yet in place, had a tendency to “cut and paste” inappropriate laws from developed ones, creating a discrepancy between the legal framework and actual needs.

Mr Riad Bahsoun (Lebanon) delivered a message that affirmed the definition of a legal and regulatory framework for the information society as an essential precondition of the success of the summit and of all actions ensuing from it. But a blanket approach to regulation should be avoided, he warned, as circumstances vary across regions. In the Arab countries, for example, operators are not all privately owned, but may be publicly owned enterprises, demanding a different regulatory approach than for private business communities.

Participants also pointed out that the information society goes beyond e-commerce and the Internet, which are only two of its drivers. Legislative and regulatory measures should also cater for e-health, e‑learning, etc. The fundamental question also needs to be answered of whether to regulate the Internet at all, and whether and how to regulate content. Child pornography and trafficking of women are just two areas where some kind of content regulation is needed, said one participant.

The Missing Link is the Network

“WSIS should set the course for international support for e-business strategies for development”, said Mr Zhong Zhou Li of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). He acknowledged both the excitement and anxieties provoked by the ICT revolution. But, he said, if digital opportunities were effectively harnessed for e-business, and the right conditions developed, the economic fruits of ICT could be reaped.

Where e-health is concerned, “ the problem is not one of technology, but one of will”, said Mr Michael Scholtz of the World Health Organization (WHO). “ We get phones to fit pockets, but not to reach to the poorest parts of the world”, he lamented. Computers are the key to e-health in developing countries like Africa, where less than one per cent of the population is online. Not only can computers run health applications in these countries, but also simple steps such as the distribution of free online journals can bring precious information to health practitioners and researchers. The cornerstones for e‑health, this speaker urged, are education and training, policies and universal standards.

Also speaking from a developing country perspective, Dr T.H. Chowdary described how, in India, the policy motto of “ a phone in every village” had given way to one of “ a mobile phone in every hand and an Internet connection in every village”. In a country where 30 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, 72 per cent lives rurally, and 35 per cent is illiterate, the challenges to making telecommunications ubiquitous, broadband, affordable and reliable, and to making the Internet accessible to all, are huge. Nevertheless, progress is possible through government initiative, he showed. Illiterate citizens can access the Internet, for example, by using the intermediary of an educated “attendant”, posted at a public Internet access point, as a human tool for access.

Special Groups, Special Needs

Islands of Concern

Mr. Abel Caine, Business and Systems Development for E-government, Fiji's Ministry of Finance, stressed the special ICT needs of small-island development states. Their problems include environmental hazards, often caused by natural disaster such as cyclones, but also more traditional concerns such as a ‘brain drain’ of talent. Even in Fiji, with its advanced education system that emphasized new technologies, retaining ICT experts was a problem. The Pacific Islands had adopted the "Pacific Island Information and Communication Technology Policy and Strategic Plan", and UNDP was carrying out the e-Pacifica Project, aimed at producing national e-strategy plans. The forthcoming WSIS Pacific Consultation meeting will provide an opportunity to brief those Pacific islands that could not attend PrepCom-2.

Driving Technology – Now and in the Future

Mr. Nick Moraitis, of the Toronto-based Youth Caucus, said technology advances were often driven by young people who are often the most technology-oriented segment of society citing leading innovators such as Bill Gates and the founders of Netscape and Napster had been young visionaries themselves. As well, they were often innovators "not just for money but out of social concerns. Survey after survey shows that young people are actively involved in society, very productive as entrepreneurs or volunteers; very concerned in social issues, as demonstrated by the many youth-led projects to bridge the digital divide in developing countries (of which a radio and ICT project in Viet Nam was only one example). Young people were involved in the World Summit to ensure that their concern would be taken into account; to form links and partnerships; and to bring the viewpoint of youth to the Summit.

Major issues for young people were education, employment ("Nine tenths of the jobs of the future have not yet been invented"); good governance; and the creation of participatory content (exemplified by the Internet, which should be encouraged, supported and kept free). Mr. Moraitis invited participants to log into his organization's web site, www.takingitglobal.org.

Technology Inclusion

Mr. Pietro Sicuro, of the Agence Intergouvernementale de la Francophonie stressed the need for multilateral ICT activities, through action that would make it possible to share experiences among all partners in a project. Local competence was crucial: "we don't want to train people for one product, but to encourage people to become more technically independent. We need to help people to call upon their own expertise." The goal was to bring people together, working together to make the information society as inclusive as possible. He also noted that it was important to include linguistic and cultural issues in the Summit's preparations.

Banking on Technology for Development

Ms. Kathleen Gordon, of the Caribbean Development Bank said the Bank supported a wide range of ICT projects and strategies and that it was collaborating closely with UNDP and ITU. However, she cautioned that, "with every transformation, some persons can fall through the cracks if special attention is not paid to them." With the coming information society, there were special groups to which attention must be paid, "otherwise significant human potential and human capital can be lost."

Technology for Inclusion

José Manuel Morán, of the NGO Spanish Committee to Represent People with Disabilities (CERMI) (http://www.cermi.es/), said the problem was not technological availability, but access by all citizens. The disability problem was an issue of social inclusion, born out of a society that did not do enough to include all of its citizens. "To work for the inclusion of

People with disabilities is to work for the quality of life of society. The problem does not lie in technology but in social receptivity. It will be useless to provide people with disabilities with digital technologies if they cannot participate in the information society." The information

Society was full of opportunities, but also challenges and threats. "It is important that people with disabilities themselves take up the issue."

Creating Human Capacity for the Information Society

Marcel Boisard, executive director of UNITAR and moderator of this roundtable presented the need for a new approach to ‘human’ capacity building. The expression capacity building evokes a vague concept with many potential meanings, however, “this new approach is centered on the concept of strengthening national human and institutional capacity, rather than that of direct technical assistance.” He stressed the fact that ICT technologies can never replace the individual exchange between trainee and trainer, but they do represent powerful new possibilities for training.

Strategies to achieve sustainable human capacity within developing countries were at the core of the presentation by Mr Sirous Nassiri of the Islamic Republic of Iran. “In order to bolster human capacity we need to start making reforms in order to attract the private sector. Also we need to adopt policies that will increase competition, and create impartial and strong regulatory bodies in order to attract private investment.”

Tony Zeitoun, Senior Advisor of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) stressed the importance of “facilitating knowledge acquisition to individuals about a particular sector, so that they can get empowered and acquire appropriate skills, to successfully perform their required functions”. Mr. Zeitoun stressed the differences between capacity building through ICTs used as education tools for the development of all sectors and capacity building in the ICTs sector in order to build capacity for the industry itself.

A model for sustainable capacity building, currently implemented in 149 countries, and aimed at creating opportunities for training students on IP network management in developing countries was presented by Mr Arthur Reilly of Cisco. We believe that the two great equalizers in life are the Internet and education, thus the combination of them help individuals to grow personally and professionally.” Cisco appealed for a combination of partnerships in order to close the gap in the “new economy” and foster IP skills in developing countries, as it is doing in a joint venture with ITU. “We are planning to establish with ITU a worldwide network of 50 Internet Training Centers by mid-2003.”

Visions of the Information Society

The second in a series of lunchtime presentations focusing on a number of key considerations for the information age was held. The nature of the information society from a developing world perspective was presented by Dr Madanmohan Rao, a Consultant and Writer from Bangalore, India. Dr Rao presented a concrete framework for categorizing societies in the digital age. For his complete presentation and more information on the Visions event go to www.itu.int/visions. 


For media information concerning the second phase of the Summit, click here

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