The Road to Geneva and Beyond ― To a “New Era of Solidarity”
The first day of the third meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS PrepCom-3) opened with rallying calls to the delegates. “A new era of solidarity” was heralded by Mr. Adama Samassékou, President of the WSIS PrepCom, as all stakeholders, Member States and organizers begin to harmonize their efforts towards the common WSIS goals.
So far, the PrepCom meetings have borne witness to the strong common will that exists among all PrepCom players to harness ICTs for the benefit of all of humanity. But the outcome of the ten-day meeting, said Mr. Samassékou, must go beyond that. It must show a real commitment to implement the concrete actions that are defined in the Draft Action Plan. PrepCom3 has before it no mean task. That task includes shortening the Draft Declaration of Principles and making it more concise, as well as refining the structure and language of the draft Action Plan.
PrepComs 1 and 2, and the various regional and intersessional meetings, have resulted in a Draft Declaration of Principles and Draft Action Plan that are the fruit of a complex negotiation process. While the road to Geneva is almost complete, much work is needed to ensure that the finalized documents are focused and compelling for all stakeholders from Heads of State to the general public.
ITU’s Pledge is Reaffirmed to Help Bring ICT Access to All
Just as access to technology has become a key concern throughout the world, so ITU has expanded its role to take on board the key policy and social issues surrounding ICTs in the modern world, said Mr. Yoshio Utsumi, ITU’s Secretary-General and Chairman of the High-Level Summit Organizing Committee (HLSOC). But the reality is that only the smallest of inroads has been made into the gulf that separates the information “haves” and “have-nots”, through such technologies as broadband and wireless. “We must not lose three main objectives from our sights”, Mr. Utsumi reminded the Plenary. “Those objectives are to:
· Bring to the attention of top political leaders the implications of the information society;
· Solicit and obtain their commitment to proactively tackle the digital divide;
· Gain their commitment to build the necessary legal frameworks to protect cyberspace.”
Courage Needed to Shape Greater Equality of Access
The goals of WSIS are ambitious ones; the meeting was reminded by H.E. Mr. Moritz Leuenberger (Switzerland), Minister of the Environment and Transport. The proposed targets for the Action Plan include:
· All villages to be connected by 2010, with a community access point by 2015.
· All universities to be connected by 2005, secondary schools by 2010 and primary schools by 2015.
· All hospitals to be connected by 2005, and health centres by 2010.
To attain those goals, PrepCom itself must remain ambitious, and not be afraid to shake up the status quo in order to make a real difference in order to bridge the digital divide.
The Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General for WSIS, H.E. Mr. Nitin Desai, echoed those comments. The overriding implication of this conference, he said, is that it doesn’t just concern the IT sector. “The moral of the story of technology throughout history, he said, is that it turns out differently for rich and poor countries. The real challenge is to shape ICTs into coherent vision for a prosperous and free world through:
· Regulation, competition and policy;
· Addressing the digital divide;
· Transforming political processes, for example by the connection of citizens through cyberspace;
“One of the biggest fears felt by the world community in the face of the spread of ICTs, is the homogenization of languages and cultures”, he pointed out. “The challenge is therefore to leverage in a positive way the potential of ICTs to nurture diversity in those very areas of human life.”
Summit Has Strong Commitment from Heads of State and Government
“The interest expressed by leaders from both the developed and developing world is evidence of how information and communication technologies (ICTs) are transforming the global economy and society,” said Mr Utsumi. He also noted, “there is widespread recognition among leaders that collective action is required to address the digital divide and its implications for broader social and economic development.”
The United Nations General Assembly mandated the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as lead organizing agency for the Summit with support from the rest of the United Nations family and under the patronage of the UN Secretary-General , Mr. Kofi Annan. The two-phase Summit is hosted by the Governments of Switzerland (Geneva, 10-12 December 2003) and Tunisia (Tunis, 16-18 November 2005).
The Preparatory Committee meeting, which runs from 15-26 September, will continue work on a draft Declaration of Principles and Action Plan in order to harness the power of ICTs as a tool for development and to create an information society that benefits people of all regions in the world. The draft Declaration and Action plan will be submitted for the approval of Heads of State attending the Summit. The documents are available
Information society issues under discussion during the preparatory process and at the Summit include: security, privacy, Spam, universal and affordable access to ICTs, open source software, as well as ICT applications for health, learning, business, employment, environment and government. The need to ensure cultural and linguistic diversity in cyberspace as well as freedom of expression in the information society will also be addressed.
Mr Marc Furrer, Director of OFCOM and Head of the Swiss Delegation to the Preparatory Committee, also said he was pleased with the response from world leaders to date, but challenged leaders of the developed world to show the same measure of commitment as expressed by those in the developing world. “The Summit presents the opportunity to forge creative and enduring partnerships between countries in the developed and developing world as well as with the private sector, civil society and the media.”
Civil Society Update
After a brief welcome by Ms. Renate Bloem, the President of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO), the President of PrepCom-3 was given the floor. Mr. Samassékou highlighted that the preparatory process for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) must change from “input to impact”. “This is the time, he said, to progress from a process of expression of ideas to a stage of creation and interaction.”
Mr. Alain Clerc, Civil Society director, pointed out that the peculiarity of the PrepCom process is that it is a tripartite one. From planning through to execution, the process involves governments, private entities and civil society. Civil society, it was argued, carries heavy responsibilities, and it has to work together in an inclusive process to encompass developing and developed world concerns. At the present stage, the concerns of developing countries need to be better addressed.
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