Press Releases

    PI/1686
    14 November 2005

    Background Release

    Top Global Experts on Information Technology Expected to Take Part in Tunis Conference on Bridging "Digital Divide", 16-18 November

    Summit on Information Society Is Second Phase of 2003 Geneva Event; Secretary-General Annan, World Leaders among 12,000 Likely to Attend

    NEW YORK, 11 November (UN Headquarters) -- The second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, taking place in Tunis next week, will bring together political, business and civil society leaders to take action to bridge the digital divide, so that the benefits of the information society can be shared by all.

    "The Tunis phase is the Summit of solutions", said Yoshio Utsumi, the Secretary-General of the Summit and Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency in charge of the event.  "It aims at transforming the digital divide into digital opportunities for promoting peace, sustainable development, democracy, transparency and good governance."

    The Summit, to be held at Kram PalExpo in Tunis from 16 to 18 November, will take stock of the implementation of the ambitious agenda agreed to at the first phase, held in Geneva in 2003, when 175 countries adopted a Declaration of Principles outlining a common vision of the information society and a plan of action that sets targets to improve connectivity and access to information and communication technology (ICT).

    The targets, to be achieved by 2015, include connecting villages, community access points, schools and universities, research centres, libraries, health centres and hospitals, and local and central Government departments.

    The plan of action also seeks to encourage the development of content and to put in place technical conditions facilitating the presence of all world languages on the Internet.  The Tunis meeting will address the implementation and follow-up of the Plan's action lines, financial mechanisms to bridge the digital divide and Internet governance.

    The event is expected to welcome some 12,000 participants from Governments, the private sector, civil society and leading media organizations.  United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will be present, along with Heads of State and Government from more than 50 countries and top executives from more than 200 companies worldwide.  Leading development organizations will also be represented.

    A main goal will be to seek ways for developing countries to gain better access to the Internet and other information and communication technology.  According to the ITU, the 942 million people living in the world's developed economies enjoy five times better access to fixed and mobile phone services, nine times better access to Internet services and own 13 times more personal computers than the 85 per cent of the world's population living in low- and middle-income countries.  It is estimated that 800,000 villages still lack connection by telephone line, the Internet or any other modern communications technology.

    "Greater access to information technologies can improve farming practices and assist micro-entrepreneurs", said Shashi Tharoor, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.  "It can help prevent AIDS and other communicable diseases, promote women's equality and foster environmental protection.  All over the developing world, electronic commerce, distance education, telemedicine and e-governance are improving the quality of life for countless people".

    The Tunis conference is expected to adopt a political document outlining Member States' political commitments and an operational agenda on follow-up and future action.  Member States have largely agreed on the section of the outcome document that deals with financial mechanisms to promote the deployment of information and communication technology in the developing world.

    Another pending issue is to finalize arrangements for ensuring Summit follow-up and implementation.  Setting out clear responsibilities for ensuring that the targets of the action plan are monitored and achieved is considered essential.

    Governments will also seek agreement on matters related to the use of the Internet.  Over the years, the Internet has grown in value for all users, including Governments, said Ambassador Janis Karklins, President of the Summit preparatory committee.  "For many Governments, a system that was not important 10 years ago has become extremely important today", Mr. Karklins said, adding that these Governments have been asking for changes in the way the system is run.

    So far, governance of matters related to the use of the Internet has been dealt with in a dispersed and fragmented manner, while the Internet's infrastructure has been managed in an informal but effective collaboration between various institutions, with private businesses, civil society and the academic and technical communities taking the lead.  But developing countries have said that they find it difficult to follow all these processes and feel left out of Internet governance structures.

    For historical reasons, the United States has the ultimate authority over some of the Internet's core resources.  There is wide agreement on the need for more international participation in discussions of Internet governance issues; the disagreement is over how to achieve this.  What seems to be unresolved is how all interested parties discuss public policy issues.  There is a range of opinions on how this should be done, which will be discussed at the Summit.

    In the draft outcome document, countries have already agreed to recognize national sovereignty over country code Top Level Domain names (like .uk for the United Kingdom) and on the principle that Governments should not get involved into the day-to-day management of the Internet.

    The Summit will have three days of plenary sessions, along with the following related events:

    -- a high-level panel and two round tables that will give Heads of State and Government the opportunity to engage in public debates with prominent business and civil society leaders;

    -- the launch of the $100 laptop computer developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, which will serve as the cornerstone of the "One Laptop per Child" global development initiative.  (The new laptop will be unveiled at an event hosted by Media Lab's Professor Nicholas Negroponte, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Mrs. Nane Annan.);

    -- the ITU Connect the World Round Table, featuring around 20 top-level representatives from Government, the private sector and civil society;

    -- the launch of a groundbreaking new ITU report, "The Internet of Things", at a media panel debate featuring senior technical gurus from a number of major companies;

    -- the ITU High-level Panel, featuring the President of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor, and information ministers from Egypt, Indonesia and Mexico, together with senior company executives from several countries;

    -- film highlights from the Summit that will be webcast and screened at the venue.

    Among the speakers at plenary session of the Summit will be Craig Barrett (Chairman, Intel Corporation), J.N. Cho (CEO, SK Telecom), Jean-Philippe Courtois (President, Microsoft International), Shirin Ebadi (winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize), Dr Robert E. Kahn (co-inventor of the Internet's TCP/IP protocol suite), J.B. Levy (CEO Vivendi Universal), Didier Lombard (CEO, France Telecom), Masao Nakamura (CEO, NTT DoCoMo), Professor Nicholas Negroponte (Chairman, MIT Media Lab) and Serge Tchuruk (CEO, Alcatel).

    Parallel Events

    In parallel with the Summit, some 300 separate round tables, panels, presentations and media events are planned by civil society organizations, business entities and national delegations.

    The second World Electronic Media Forum, to be held on 15 and 16 November, will bring together top media executives and practitioners from developed and developing countries, as well as other policy makers, to discuss the role of the electronic media in the information society.  The 250 participants and 45 panellists from around the world participating in the forum will formulate recommendations to be transmitted to the intergovernmental summit.

    A major exhibition, "ICT4All", will be held from 15 to 19 November at Kram PalExpo.  Companies from developed and developing countries will showcase innovative ideas and practical solutions, meet and forge new partnerships.  Some 40,000 visitors are expected to attend exhibition.

    Media Coverage

    The ITU has urged journalists to gain accreditation for the Summit even if they are unable to travel to Tunis to attend in person.

    In line with the Summit's theme of promoting the use of information and communication technology and universal access to information, the Summit Newsroom ( http://www.itu.int/wsis/tunis/newsroom/index.html ) will allow journalists to go on "virtual assignment" to Tunis in four languages, providing almost instantaneous access to a range of information.  These will include:

    -- downloadable high-resolution photos of all the action, available within minutes;

    -- daily event highlights and press releases;

    -- live webcasts of all Summit plenary sessions, round tables, high-level panels and press conferences held in the Summit Media Centre;

    -- access to key ITU/ICT statistics and a wealth of background articles; and

    -- privileged access to key ITU reports on the shape of the global and regional ICT industry.

    For media accreditation, see:

    http://www.itu.int/newsroom/accredit/wsis/2005/tunis/procedure.html

    For further information, please visit www.itu.int/wsis  or contact the Summit Press Office, International Telecommunication Union, Tel:  +41 22 730 6039, Fax:  +41 22 730 5201, e-mail wsismedia@itu.int .

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