United Nations  International Telecommunication Union  




 Closing Press Conference: 30 September 2005



Speaking to the press on the last day of the final preparatory session for the Tunis phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Secretary-General of WSIS, pronounced that the preparations underway for November’s summit were in “good shape”, however, there were still unresolved problems in the area of Internet governance and financial mechanisms.

Mr. Utsumi and Ambassador Janis Karklins, president of the third preparatory committee (PrepCom3) for the Tunis phase of WSIS, which began in Geneva two weeks ago, sounded warnings that PrepCom3 may not reach an agreement on the final documents by the end of the day. Mr Karklins said it was probable that there may be pre-Summit negotiation sessions prior to the WSIS summit in Tunis, which begins on the 16 November in Tunis, in order to finalize the outcome documents to be adopted there. While the first phase of WSIS held in December 2003 in Geneva had culminated in a Declaration of Principles and a Plan of Action, the second phase is devoted to the implementation of that action plan and other issues such as financial mechanisms and Internet governance. Fusing the differing views of governments on the latter will be the biggest challenge for the negotiations to come, both panellists confirmed.

Speaking on the issue of Internet governance, Mr. Karklins said the chapter of the Tunis outcome document on this subject had been drafted, negotiated and was very close to completion, excepting those parts which are “of highest sensitivity”. He added, nevertheless, that Internet governance was not only about Root Zone Files and domain name systems. Ordinary Internet users were more concerned about the Internet being stable, reliable, secure, affordably priced and language friendly. “What is important for Internet user is that he or she does not receive hundreds of spam messages every morning, that they can make their commercial transactions without being afraid of somebody hacking and using their credit card number, that when opening a message they don’t get a virus in the computer.” The WSIS process, he said, was looking into resolving such issues.

He noted that governments’ current debate on Internet governance, however, is not so much about these concerns as about political representation. As ITU Secretary General Yoshio Utsumi put it, when it comes to Internet governance, what countries wanted was “a sense of ownership”. This has prompted some governments to call for an internationalization of the governance process, which has so far been operated by an American company under the oversight of the US government.

To understand this discussion, Mr. Karklins explained that it was important to bear in mind the history of the Internet, which was developed in the United States. “For many governments, a system that was not important ten years ago has become extremely important today.” These governments, he added, have been asking for some change in the system.

Asked if a failure of the negotiations could lead to new, incompatible Internet networks, Ambassador Karklins said, that “the great value of the Internet is that all machines around the world understand each other and communicate with each other.” If a new domain name system was developed it should be interoperable with other domain name systems. In that regard, the spirit of cooperation on this issue had been extraordinary, he said, expressing his belief that the outcome of negotiations would be positive.

Mr Utsumi reminded journalists of the fact that the “Internet governance issue is just one of many.” The overall objectives of the Summit weren’t affected much by the Internet governance debate, the ITU Secretary-General added. He was supported by Ambassador Karklins, who observed that the Tunis summit “is one of solutions; implementation is one of the most important aspects, otherwise the whole process and all decisions taken in Geneva will remain on paper”. The Summit will also provide an excellent platform for the Digital Solidarity Fund, established in March this year, to showcase achievements and plans for the future.

Concerning a follow-up mechanism for the Summit, Mr. Utsumi said he did not feel that the creation of a new institution or organization was necessary. The question was how to coordinate within existing organizations, including private sector institutions and non-governmental organizations.

Asked whether the ITU was ready to serve as a centre for operating the Internet, Mr Utsumi said the ITU would be ready to take on any role its Member States requested, although there was no consensus for any specific role as yet. He added that given the ITU’s specific mandate as a United Nations specialized agency, the Union would be well- positioned for any such task. More than 70 percent of the Union’s activities, he noted, are already Internet related.

Other positive steps taken during the two weeks in Geneva included the agreement on a working definition on Internet governance, which was elaborated by the Working Group on Internet Governance. PrepCom3 also successfully agreed on a definition for the role of all stakeholders in the Internet governance issue and on several aspects of public policy related to the use of the Internet. Another key area being addressed was promoting development and ICT capacity building in developing countries.

Mr Utsumi announced that about 40 heads of State and Government had already confirmed that they would be attending the Summit. Moreover, the ITU and the Government of Tunisia had signed a Host Country Agreement nearly two months prior to the event, which was in itself a very positive step. The private sector had also expressed keen interest in playing an active role at the conference in Tunis.

In response to a question from the floor, Mr Utsumi mentioned that there were some 300 parallel events scheduled to take place at the Tunis Summit, in which a number of private sector CEOs will be participating. One of the highlights of the Summit is expected to be ITU’s Connect the World Round Table, where many CEOs are expected to announce tangible commitments to bridging the “digital divide”. A number of round tables were also being organized by the private sector and non-governmental organizations. Concerning the current session, he informed the press that there were now 1,925 registered participants, of which 635 represented non-governmental organizations. He underscored that the purpose of the Tunis phase would be for delegates to make a real commitment to build an effective Information Society by 2015; to do so, governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations would have to work together in multi-stakeholder partnerships in the future.

Responding to a question, Mr. Utsumi said the goal of bridging the “digital divide” in developing countries was a major challenge, but was attainable. The goal of ITU’s “Connect the World” initiative, launched earlier in the year, is to connect all communities by 2015; at present the ITU estimates that some 800,000 villages are still without any kind of connection. He also expressed his belief that the Summit would be a success in terms of participation, agreements reached, and in terms of the commitments being made by all stakeholders.

In this regard, the “results of the third Prep Com were promising,” Mr. Karklins avowed. “We will be able to present to the Summit a significant document, which will reflect the advancement of thinking of governments and other stakeholders on the issues under discussion, that is to say, implementation and follow-up to WSIS, financial mechanisms to bridge the digital divide, and issues related to Internet governance.”




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Updated : 2005-10-17