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 NEWSROOM : SECOND PHASE, TUNIS : PREPCOM-2
 PrepCom-2 Highlights: 18-21 February 2005

 

Focus on Finance Mechanisms 

 

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Plan of Action, at its first phase in Geneva in December 2003, requested that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan establish a task force to review the adequacy of existing financial mechanisms to meet the challenges of information and communication technologies for development. The Task Force completed its report at the end of December 2004 for consideration by PrepCom-2. 

 

Mr Nishimoto of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who presented the report, explained that it focused on providing an analysis of the existing mechanisms and an identification of gaps and best practices that could be used to facilitate a broader set of consultations to feed into the WSIS deliberations. The findings represent the Task Force's point of departure that the use of ICT is firmly rooted in a financing and development perspective, said Mr Nishimoto.

 

A large number of interventions and written submissions were received from some 27 countries as well as from civil society groups and one private sector entity. Most of these interventions centered on perceived inadequacies of existing financing mechanisms and the preconditions, improvements and innovations to be recommended for utilizing and accessing existing mechanisms.

 

The first reading of the text occurred in a very cooperative environment with very little of the text left in brackets. The key points of discussion focused on the belief that the report was too much “one-size-fits-all” in its prescriptions. Least Developed Countries (LDCs) want a special paragraph to address their particular situations. There was also a great deal of discussion on paragraph 27 of the report, which relates to the Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) and what its objective might be. In order to provide delegates with more background information on the DSF, which is an African initiative but with global implications, a special briefing was convened.

 

Digital Solidarity Fund – An Overview

 

Ambassador Guy Olivier Segond was invited by PrepCom-2 to make a presentation on the Digital Solidarity Fund. It was proposed by President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal at WSIS Geneva and will be inaugurated by President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria in his capacity as Chairman of the African Union on 14 March 2005 in Geneva. It is seen as a voluntary and complementary financing mechanism to supplement existing financial mechanisms. 

 

The Fund, registered in Switzerland, will be financed by voluntary contributions of 1% on contracts obtained by private ICT service providers that will allow them to use the “Digital Solidarity” label. The funds will be used to finance community projects, not major infrastructure investments, and will be allocated on the following criteria: 60% for projects carried out in least developed countries (LDCs); 30% for countries in transition; and 10% for developed countries, where there are instances of a digital divide. The administrative costs of the Foundation will not exceed 6% of total expenditure.

 

Several member states intervened in support of the Digital Solidarity Fund. Ghana said that this is not an African solution to an African problem, but a global solution to a global issue. Some countries expressed certain misgivings. Venezuela, Cuba and Indonesia questioned why among developing countries, only LDCs were having access to the fund as well as the voluntary nature of the 1% contribution. Colombia was concerned that 1% increase in cost would be transferred to the buyer, contributing to widening the digital divide. Others questioned the establishment of the Fund under Swiss law and expressed the need to establish financial mechanisms under international auspices, such as the United Nations.

 

Civil Society Addresses Financial Mechanisms

 

Civil Society held a special session on financial mechanisms for ICT for development. Two reports were issued. The first focused on financing strategies for information societies based on the conceptual framework of global public goods (GPGs). The GPG focus suggests that the efforts of the international community should be concentrated on consolidating a system that is suitable for providing this good. It was suggested that the strategy for providing and financing this public good should be have the following five elements:

 

  1. To create mechanisms that will put special emphasis on the infrastructure sector, especially strengthening those capacities in countries that are less able to mobilize resources.

  2. To take advantage of the range of financial mechanisms offered by different sources of finance and to adapt these mechanisms to the needs of each country and of each component of the Information Society.

  3. A sustained pressure to install financial mechanisms that are specially geared to the Information Society. For example, global taxes or the limited version of the ‘International Finance Facility’ (IFF) so as to widen financial options and complement resources for developing countries. 

  4. Countries should be able to take advantage of the implicit division of labour that there is among different sources of finance.

  5. The strategy should complement shortcomings in the national or local ambit. 

The second report looked at progress and issues in financing ICT4D in Sub-Saharan Africa. The region consists of thirty-four of the fifty least developing countries and fourteen of the thirty-two landlocked countries that face the most daunting economic, social and political challenges - poverty, income inequality, internal and external conflicts, disease, and high costs for basic infrastructure, including telecommunications. The report addresses two main perspectives:

  1. Financing mechanisms to support the ICT needs of the vast majority of African poor (poverty eradication).

  2. Mechanisms to support ICT to increase the rate of national development and economic growth in the region.

The report highlights the importance of African countries’ participation in global governance issues, their access to trade and debt relief, which are viewed as critical for their improved participation in the Information Society. These reports are available here.



Observers Comment on the Tunis Agenda

 

ITU 

 

Roberto Blois, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, told the PrepCom-2 Plenary on Monday 21 February that connectivity and access are the foundations of an inclusive and development-oriented Information Society and that ITU plays a critical role in addressing the challenge. “On the demand side”, he said, “Our activities foster deployment of networks that are responsive to users. And on the supply side we are helping governments to expand and adapt their infrastructure for the development of ICT applications and services in areas that include e-health, e-commerce, and distance learning.”

 

As the lead UN agency mandated to organize the Summit, ITU is ready to take a key role in implementing the goals of WSIS. Blois said one of the key tools is the initiative taken in developing the stocktaking database. “It provides an inventory of activities undertaken by all stakeholders in implementing the Geneva Plan of Action and to track progress made in achieving an inclusive Information Society and meeting the Millennium Development Goals.” The information gathered, he added, will help us to:

 

  • Identify areas where more attention is required

  • Strengthen partnerships between stakeholders

  • Learn from best practices (and bad) in an effort to improve cooperation projects and policies

 

Looking ahead towards effective implementation, Blois said that ITU could coordinate with UN bodies so that each would take the lead in their respective spheres of competence while ITU would work in the three areas of its own expertise: Providing access and communication technology for all with a focus on rural and underserved areas; confidence and security in the use of ICTs; and creating policy and regulatory frameworks. ITU would undertake to keep the world community regularly informed of progress.

 

CERN

 

CERN, represented by Dr. Maximilian Metzger, Secretary-General, made a proposal to PrepCom-2 of priority actions to achieve WSIS goals for the scientific community. These include knowledge, education and fair partnerships including technical assistance that are key to capacity building for development. ICTs are an essential medium to globally store, access, organize and share content in science and education. The scientific community should participate actively in Internet governance discussions and on actions related to e-capacity building, enhanced by ICT and partnerships. 

 

Civil Society Working Group

 

Bertrand de la Chapelle, Civil Society Working Group, said that governments alone could not implement the Plan of Action. He identified five areas for inclusive consultations: Action lines (thematic and issue-based approach); Multi-stakeholder teams; the role of international organizations (improve coherence between various entities); on a coordination body (facilitation); and at the national level (support multi-stakeholder dialogue to facilitate implementation on a national level).

 

Working Group on Scientific Information

 

Francis Muguet, coordinator, Working Group on Scientific Information, advocated developing a working definition of international multi-stakeholder mechanisms and partnerships; analyzing national legal framework for public-private partnerships and proposals to empower multi-stakeholder mechanisms by all stakeholders; and to prepare a report to be considered at the Tunis phase of WSIS.

 

Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCBI)

 

Ayesha Hassan of Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors stressed that CCBI believed that the operational part should focus on showing progress on the commitments made at phase 1 in Geneva. Recognition should thus be given to countries where progress had been made on the Declaration and Plan of Action regarding basics, such as education, infrastructure, capacity –building, pro-competitive legal and regulatory frameworks and fostering entrepreneurship. 

 

The Tunis Plan — from Principles to Action

 

Having forged ahead with discussion on the mechanisms to finance ICTs, which will resume Tuesday 22 February, the Subcommittee pressed on with consideration of the other main topic on the agenda of PrepCom-2: The Tunis Plan of implementation. The Plan, which forms the bulk of the operational part of the final document tabled by the “Friends of the Chair”, represents a concerted effort to translate into concrete reality the Plan of Action adopted at the Geneva phase of WSIS, held in December 2003. The entire document is in square brackets (not yet agreed) as of now, and therefore subject to fine-tuning of language that will eventually yield consensus on this key issue. 

 

As States debated the first chapter of proposals to move from principles to action, one recurring issue was that the date 2008 set for countries to elaborate e-strategies as an integral part of national development plans was unrealistic. Many developing countries expressed the need to remove such time constraints from the text given their differing levels of development. The EU, on the other hand, suggested a review date of 2010 to mainstream and align national e-strategies, thus looking forward to 2015 as the target to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Australia, Canada and the US agreed that language should be consistent with the Millennium Declaration. 

 

Regarding the establishment of early-warning systems for natural disasters, Sri Lanka reminded participants of the critical importance of the need to bolster such capabilities. Sri Lanka had been one of the countries most affected by last December’s tsunami tragedy. It called upon ITU to pursue every effort, together with other international organizations, to agree on the most appropriate technology and funding of an early warning system for the Indian Ocean. Japan and the US supported Sri Lanka’s position.

 

Discussion also centred on the need to take account of human capacity-building, training and labour re-qualification to meet the challenges in converting to an Information Society and enabling citizens to exploit the potential of ICTs. South Africa went further by proposing investment both in formal education and in human resources, such as teachers, women and youth.

 

Others endorsed buttressing the regional dimension to e-development, Russia for example, suggested the inclusion of telemedicine as a means to improving access to the world’s health knowledge. Iraq said due attention should be paid to environmental questions. Brazil felt that an additional clause should cover the issue of technological convergence. Still others insisted on the explicit mention of local languages and content and means to achieve that. 

 

Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) Completes Preliminary Report 

 

The Working Group on Internet Governance, meeting at the United Nations in Geneva from 14 to 16 February, discussed Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, administration of the Internet Root Server system and other issues, while completing its preliminary report. The Group moved closer to a common understanding of a working definition on Internet governance, identified public policy issues and set out a time frame for its work.

 

Some 21 working papers had made up the raw material for discussions to facilitate a common understanding on a wide array of issues. States will now comment on the package.

 

WGIG agreed to work simultaneously on developing a practical definition of the Internet itself. During the WGIG discussions as well as in the open consultations a convergence of views emerged, based on the following observations:

 

  • The terms ‘governance’ and ‘govern’ mean more than ‘government activities’; 

  • The enabling dimension includes organized and cooperative activities between different stakeholders; and

  • Internet governance encompasses a wider range of conditions and mechanisms than IP numbering and domain name administration.

 

In doing so, it considered the following points: 

 

  • The fast moving technological environment;

  • The need to be action-oriented;

  • The roles and responsibilities of different actors set out in Paragraph 49 of the Declaration of Principles;

  • Identification of the full range of issues that are Internet-related on a forward-looking, dynamic basis, with reference to the general and specific policy objectives embedded in the Declaration of Principles;

  • A practical basis for distinguishing between technical and public policy issues; and

  • That the term “governance” implies new forms of governance, based on a multi-stakeholder approach.

 

It also identified four issues as key for public policy areas that should be subject to further investigation and discussion, namely,

 

  • Internet infrastructure and management, including administration of the domain name system and IP addresses, as well as administration of the Root server system. The future of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), currently responsible for managing and coordinating domain names, falls in this category;

  • Issues specifically pertaining to Internet governance, including spam, network security, and cybercrime. As yet, global cooperation required to tackle these phenomena is not well defined and no one body is competent to deal with them;

  • Issues touching on Internet governance, but with implications beyond it. These include intellectual property rights (IPRs) or international trade, which fall within the purview of organizations, such as the WTO or WIPO. These issues cannot be dealt with by a forum dealing with Internet governance alone;

  • Developmental aspects of Internet governance, in particular, capacity building in developing countries.

 

Between now and April, the Group would examine its strengths and weaknesses so as to iron out problems and draft a final report in July. The report is available here

 

MDGs and ICTs 

 

“Promoting WSIS: MDGs Synergies” was a parallel event organized by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, and the Global Knowledge Partnership. Focusing on “up-scaling pro-poor ICT policies and practices”, the event was chaired by Walter Fust, Director-General, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. 

 

Richard Gerster, speaking for the Chennai Group, stressed the need to establish an effective enabling environment within a sound legal framework, providing technology choices, increased resource mobilization, and strengthening of South-South exchange for enhanced use of ICT for poverty reduction (ICT4PR). Adama Samassékou spoke of the need to strengthen grassroots action and pressed for multilingualism without which the digital divide would expand. Indrajit Banerjee stressed that ICT must break physical barriers to break the barriers of poverty. There needs to be a pact between all stakeholders as no one can achieve the task alone. Appropriate technologies and an effective legal and policy framework based on protecting freedom of expression are a must. 

 

Radhika Lal summarized the report of the Task Force on Financial Mechanisms, stressing that market forces alone are not necessarily the most effective medium for providing services to the poor and public financing mechanisms still had to be considered. Subbiah Arunachalam said ICTs had to be integrated within a holistic development process ensuring a horizontal and bottom-up flow of information. ICT4D requires knowledge-sharing and partnerships with all concerned: government, local authorities, communities, civil society and corporate entities. The Swaminathan Foundation has launched Mission 2007, a road map to connect all 637,000 villages in India within 3 years to knowledge centres, as well as share their experiences with other developing regions. 

 

A highlight of the event was the presence of women grassroots workers from India who use ICT for development. The group included Arunaben Parmar who produces videos for a grassroots women’s self-employment union to effect policy change; Pratima who uses wireless technology to help connect nomadic forest dwellers to health and emergency services; Packialoutchmy, an Internet operator from Pondicherry who runs a weather station for farmers; and Asha Sharma, a phone helpline facilitator. In their recommendations to WSIS, they stressed the need for multiligualism and appropriate voice-based technology that would bridge the literacy divide.

 

e-Learning Key to Sustainable Development

 

A parallel event of PrepCom-2 was held to call attention to e-Learning as a tool for sustainable development. The focus was on the GEO Data Portal, which was designed to be a global data pool providing input for environment knowledge and assessment based on free source and open software. 

 

The GEO Data Portal, a joint project of UN Environment Programme and the University of Geneva, and it has matured into a wider project for education and sustainable development. It gives access to a broad collection of harmonized environmental and socio-economic data sets from authoritative sources at regional, sub-regional and national levels. More than 450 statistical and geo variables are included offering possibilities of getting information, analyzing it, maps and graphics creation and cross-countries comparisons.

 

The main objective of the Geo Data Portal is to connect people and stimulate interaction, communication and knowledge of new ideas and solutions for sustainable environment development.

 

 

 

 

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