Pressing Ahead with ICT Financing and Political Principles
Some 150 countries, along with the various stakeholders in the Information Society, strove to narrow their positions on texts pertaining to financial mechanisms for ICT development and the implementation of the Geneva Plan of Action adopted at the first phase of WSIS in December 2003. These are two key topics on the agenda of PrepCom 2.
On 22 and 23 February the debate hinged on proposals by the Chair of the WSIS Subcommittee for the chapter on financial mechanisms which forms part of the operational part of the final document. The first day saw extensive multilateral cooperation to refine the text but by day two the number of bracketed, or clauses not agreed upon, text increased. This was in some part due to the fact that delegations reopened language in the Geneva Action Plan in order to address the difficulties facing small islands and least developed countries. Ad hoc drafting groups were then formed to expedite work on compromise texts and thus remove roadblocks in the contentious paragraphs.
Several members of WSIS Bureau, or steering committee, also requested the holding of an intersessional meeting between PrepCom-2 and PrepCom-3 to achieve consensus. ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi was asked to consider the feasibility of organizing the meeting.
The primary sticking points surfaced in a paragraph dealing with the challenges for developing countries to bridge the digital divide in view of competing demands for development imperatives and scant resources (paragraph 14), and the paragraph on encouraging donors to align aid with the priorities of developing countries, particularly poverty reduction strategies (paragraph 21). The Chair reminded delegates that the text was subject to consensus, whereby nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Additionally, States met with impediments in the paragraph on the emerging opportunities for a powerful commercial basis for ICT infrastructure investment in developing countries and the access of the latter to ICT-enabled services (paragraph 18); also, the paragraph addressing current approaches to ICT financing, which may prove inadequate, since demand for financing may outstrip existing resources also gave rise to an animated debate.
The Subcommittee again took up the paragraph on the Digital Solidarity Fund (paragraph 27). The proposal originally made by Senegal and to be launched officially next month, is a voluntary and complementary financing mechanism to supplement existing financial mechanisms. Debate saw both developed and developing nations seeking accommodation with each other's standpoints. The US, however, baulked at the notion that it should 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 paragraph on improving financial mechanisms to make financial resources stable, predictable, untied and sustainable (paragraph 26) took the best part of the morning of the second day. This important paragraph went to the heart of fundamental matters such as infrastructure or " ICT backbones". It dealt with related matters such as providing affordable access to ICTs by reducing Internet interconnection costs charged by backbone providers, a key bone of contention.
A number of observers made statements. Ayesha Hassan of the Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCBI) acknowledged that, in some cases, the private sector had not been able to deliver all needed investment to bring inclusive development and access for everyone. She advocated empowering people, choice for consumers and promoting innovation and productivity.
One World South Asia focused on strengthening grass-roots communications, including community-based radio.
The World Meteorological Organization highlighted ICT applications in forecasting natural disasters and delivering early warning. The International Migration Organization found that ICTs enabled knowledge transfer between diasporas and communities of origin.
A ‘Political’ Vision of the Tunis Commitment
The final PrepCom 2 document will comprise two parts: an operational component, alongside the Tunis commitment, which is the overarching political vision that will inform second phase of WSIS in Tunis.
Chairman Janis Karklins indicated that ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi recommended that further commitments be taken in addition to those reached at WSIS first phase and the financial and human resources to commensurate with those undertakings. Ambassador Karklins reported that the Group had not come up with a formula concerning the matching of commitments with resources and would thus look to PrepCom for substantive guidance on the matter. Japan, Cuba and El Salvador later offered proposals for consideration.
States considered the conceptual opening clauses entitled "From Geneva to Tunis" in the Chair's draft paper. New Zealand pointed out that December's tsunami tragedy in Asia had drawn attention to the human toll it had taken; however, the catastrophe had also obliterated repositories of culture and knowledge sources. This episode served to highlight the need to safeguard cultural heritage and national identity.
Russia said that the text did not allay fears of countries about the transborder nature of ICTs and their implications. He therefore asked for explicit reference to the sovereignty of States.
Cuba and other States felt that no existing UN document, such as the UN Charter or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should be given undue weight.
Norway called for more provisions in the text for protecting the freedom of information. Morocco endorsed the mention of "freedom of the media". Switzerland felt that the focus was too technology-centred and was in danger of losing sight of the human dimension to the question. In that connection, Ghana emphasized the need to reinforce the gender perspective, as articulated by the Accra regional meeting on WSIS.
Turning to development orientation, Russia and China supported the inclusion of an additional provision on strengthening network information security. Japan stated that a "ubiquitous network society" should come into being and would make proposals to that effect at an upcoming thematic meeting.
Cybersecurity an Issue for All
An ITU intervention on cybersecurity by Reinhard Scholl, Deputy Director of ITU’s Standardization Bureau, brought attention to the importance of this issue in the Geneva Plan of Action, which recognizes that confidence and security are among the main pillars of the Information Society. The growth in the use of ICT infrastructure and our increased reliance on electronic communication networks has heightened concerns around the world on cybersecurity. ITU has a long-standing track record on security for ICTs and as Mr Scholl noted, “ ITU is ready, in collaboration with all involved stakeholders and international expert bodies, to continue to play a key role to implement one of the goals of WSIS, namely to increase confidence and security in the use of ICTs.” He provided an overview of ITU work in the area. This focused on three areas:
Security standards for so-called Next Generation Networks as well as ITU’s standardization work on security and safety issues related to users such as Spam.
ITU is publishing studies on different security topics, ranging from network attacks to telebiometrics for authentication, from theft of identity to physical security for emergency telecommunications.
Mr Scholl stated that particular attention needs to be given to the security issues that are being wrestled with by developing countries. ITU provides support to national e-government projects, including enhancing security and trust in the use of public networks and it has been increasing awareness among stakeholders through various cybersecurity workshops and symposia. Upcoming events include a Cybersecurity Symposium in Moscow on 29 March 2005 and an ITU WSIS Thematic Meeting on Cybersecurity (28 June to 1 July) which will examine the recommendations in the WSIS Plan of Action that relate to promoting global confidence and security in the use of ICTs. ITU is also in contact with leading companies to work on standards against Spam, and will organize technical workshops on this topic.
Ambassador Daniel Stauffacher of Switzerland and Dr William Drake, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (US), made a presentation on ICT4Peace, an initiative of the Swiss Government. The goal of the ICT4Peace project is to identify ‘best’ practices and a clear framework for organizations using information and communication technologies in humanitarian and peace operations. Peace is an obvious prerequisite for sustainable social development as a single conflict can wipe out years of development efforts.
They noted that WSIS Geneva in its preoccupation with negotiating complex issues contained in the Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action overlooked the dimension of peace; but it should be incorporated as it fits in with the WSIS process and the larger objectives of the United Nations. ICTs can be used to monitor potential flashpoints and use early warning capabilities to prevent conflict. In the event of a breakout of hostilities, ICTs can be used to mitigate damage and aid in post-conflict reconstruction and peace building.
To fully explore the potential of ICTs for peace, it will be necessary to address the issue in the Tunis phase, drawing on expertise within governments including defence establishments, civil society and the UN to prepare a comprehensive roadmap for conflict resolution that incorporates ICTs. This work has been started by representatives of governments and civil society as well as think-tanks at the University for Peace and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which have been exploring the use of ICTs as an effective tool in conflict and crisis management, humanitarian efforts and peace. More information on ICT4Peace is available
Advocacy for ICT for Poverty Reduction in South Asia
Mridul Chowdhury of D.Net Bangladesh, told the session on ICT for Poverty Reduction in South Asia told delegates that South Asian leadership was essential to the implementation of the WSIS Plan of Action and to coordinate follow-up activity with Vision 2015 — an initiative to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Charles Geiger, Executive Director of the WSIS Executive Secretariat, commented that in India the ICT revolution benefits mainly the richer classes, while the poor are left out of the equation. Yet he cited some best practices in ICT for development that promoted decentralized planning and administrative transparency. These benefited the underprivileged while civil society initiatives such as knowledge centres set up by the Swaminathan Foundation helped empower poor rural women.
Basheerhamad Shadrach, Director of One World South Asia, said that technology-led growth had let down the masses and it was necessary to include people and initiative from the grassroots level in the WSIS process. Nurul Kabir, Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Service, presented a new business model driven by community services based on partnerships that involve the poor. Willie Currie of the Association for Progressive Communications expressed the need for ICT development policy to shift towards extension of network infrastructure in developing countries as a global public good that benefits all. Rinalia Abdul Rahim, Executive Director, Global Knowledge Partnership, stressed the importance of forming multi-stakeholder partnerships to reduce poverty but cautioned that partnerships are difficult to form and equally difficult to sustain.
ICT for Health Action in the Tsunami Crisis
“We can’t avoid natural disasters, but we can set up early-warning systems that can save lives”, Mr Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of ITU told delegates who attended a special session on ICT for Health Action in the Tsunami Crisis, organized by ITU and the World Health Organization. Our goals should not only be to improve existing warning systems but develop new ones.
“Why is effective communication so important for handling worldwide catastrophes”, asked David Nabarro from the WHO Health Action in Crisis?. “There is a great need for reliable information from the heart of major crises. Information enables effective action on the spot”. The higher the quality of the information provided, the higher the number of saved lives.
After the vital systems and the lifelines broke down in the Tsunami region the relief priorities of the WHO focused on providing food safe water and medical supplies to over 2 million people within three weeks. This rapid response of the WHO was possible because of the Strategic Health Operation Centre (SHOC) in Geneva and the operational and communication platforms it operates in the regions.
The provision of systems to support the sharing of information when a crisis occurs is essential. Finding answers quickly to questions such “Are there enough hospitals?” and “What kind of medication is available?” is made possible because of ICTs.
Telecoms for Disaster Relief: Tampere Convention
Another session on the role telecommunications for disaster relief was organized by ITU. The session paid particular attention to the recently ratified Tampere Convention, which temporarily waves regulatory barriers that have made it extremely difficult to import and rapidly deploy telecommunications equipment in disaster situations.
The Chairman of the session, Mr Houlin Zhao, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, told the participants that the creation of disaster resistant telecommunication networks has been a strategic imperative of ITU through the development of the telegraph, radio and television broadcasting and the Internet. “We have done this by producing ITU Recommendations that range from SOS signalling to technical standards to reduce degradation or disruption of communication networks as a result of disasters.”
ITU, with its technical expertise, he said “is committed to cooperating with ITU Member governments, UN family organizations, the private sector, the scientific and industrial community and civil society in a joint effort to develop an integrate early warning system based on modern technologies.” He added that if requested, ITU is ready to study any new information and communication technologies that may contribute to improving early warning systems for disasters.
The Tampere Convention was welcomed by Mr Les Homan of Inmarsat. However, he reminded participants that in isolation, equipment imported at the time of a disaster can only perform a local service. However if it “could be given a predetermined name and address within the international telecommunications infrastructure then there might be scope to quickly establish international connectivity”. The advantage of current mobile satellite terminals such as those of INMARSAT, Iridium, Thuraya is that they have their own unique telephone numbers assigned by ITU, which are the same regardless of the physical location of the satellite terminals. They can make and receive calls from anywhere to anywhere.
Dr Marco Ferrari of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation called the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Working Group on Emergency Telecommunication, supported by ITU and OCHA, to:
Continue the improvement of technical standards and of the interagency cooperation in the field of information and communication technology.
Continue the work with the private entities, such as telecommunication firms.
Give guidance and assistance in particular to the most disaster prone countries.
Continue lobbying the member States for the implementation of the Tampere Convention in particular:
for the necessary adaptation of national legislation;
for monitoring the progress in the field;
and for reporting to the emergency telecommunication family.
Mr Manabu Kanaya of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of Japan, provided an insightful overview on ‘best practices’ used in that country for securing access to ICTs in Natural Disasters. He demonstrated the effectiveness of a ‘Disaster Message Board’ service, that utilizes the Portable Internet, on which subscribers can post messages to notify family and friends of their safety and whereabouts. The ‘Disaster Message Board’ proved especially valuable following an earthquake in the Mid-Niigata Prefecture earthquake of 2004. More than 84 000 people posted messages on the board.
An overview of the measures taken to deal with telecommunications problems that can be expected following a disaster was also provided. These included:
The need to establish a system of communicating with related organizations;
The way to ensure various communications means, such as satellite-based cellular phones to communicate with the public;
The way to ensure temporary recovery of destoryed installations.
Dr Cosmas Zavazava, Head of ITU’s Special Unit for Least Developed Countries, outlined an approach to disaster reduction and telecommunications that he said was analogous to an onion. The first layer being early warning, focusing on universal access to information and the timely dissemination of information. The next layer being prevention and the need to raise awareness using ICTs and building preventative measures into projects. This is followed by a focus on preparedness with robust early warning systems and temporary recovery measures. Finally, the need to address risk management — policies, structures and practices — all of which should result in the reduction of disaster risk.
Mr Colin Langtry, Counsellor at ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau, stressed the continued importance of the Radio Amateur Service in disaster response. He provided an overview of ITU work in identifying globally/regionally harmonized bands for the implementation of future advanced solutions, including those dealing with emergency situations and disaster relief.
The reports given at this session are available here.
Civil Society and Private Sector Form Working Group
Ayesha Hassan, International Chamber of Commerce, and William Drake of the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, chaired the meeting “Civil Society & Private Sector”. As both Civil Society and the Private Sector have observer status at the WSIS, they agreed to work together to ensure maximum impact of their views during the time available to them in Tunis, particularly with respect to the multi-stakeholder principle. To this end, they decided to create a permanent forum, open to everyone to develop joint positions to present to governments.
Telecentre Caucus Sees True Potential
A meeting of the Telecentres Caucus was held in order to further its work to articulate a vision regarding the role of telecentres, community technical centres, telecottages, and similar institutions, in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The caucus currently has 200 members from more than 60 nations. Many of the participants represent local, national and regional telecentre initiatives, as well as public libraries and educational institutions. There are also numerous observers from government, the private sector and international agencies.
The Telecentres Caucus is promoting sustainable, multi-purpose telecentres that enable disenfranchised communities to bridge the digital divide and join the knowledge society. More than just providing Internet access, telecentres help people build new skills, gain access to important health information, become producers of local content and engage civically within their communities.
The caucus, chaired by Andy Carvin of the Digital Divide
Network, said that “he hopes that the second phase of the summit will help catalyze ongoing interactions between stakeholders in government, civil society and the private sector that see telecentres as an important tool for achieving the MDGs.” Telecentres are often under-resourced, with limited financial and human capacity, yet they have enormous development mandates within their communities. “We hope that the summit will enable an ongoing exchange of best practices, sustainability models, curricula and other resources that will allow telecentres achieve their true potential and help marginalized communities cross the digital divide.”
Youth Launch Awards
The Youth Caucus announced the World Summit Youth Award (WSYA). The competition for youth-led projects on ICTs and the Information Society was launched 17 February 2005. The WSYA is the first worldwide competition for e-content-projects by young people for young people. Winners will be announced at the WSIS in Tunis. More information is
The Youth Caucus also presented their World Summit Youth Award Radio (WSYARADIO), which is an online programme for young people. Launched three days ago the programme encourages intensive debates by featuring interviews and reports on different topics regarding the new media and the Information Society.
The Rural Youth National Campaigns on the Information Society (RYNCoIS) was also launched. Under this initiative, the Youth Caucus will provide small grants for 8 countries — Ghana, Haiti, Mali, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Malawi — to address ICT issues in their countries.