Press Releases

UNIS/INF/111
8 November 2005

Backgrounder

Governments, Private Sector, Civil Society to Gather in Tunis, 16-18 November, for Summit on Information Technology and Society

NEW YORK, 3 November (UN Headquarters) -- The second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), taking place from 16 to 18 November, 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 Summit, to be held at Kram PalExpo in Tunis, will take stock of the implementation of the ambitious agenda agreed to at the first phase, held in Geneva in 2003. In Geneva, 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 technologies (ICT).

The targets, to be achieved by 2015, include connecting villages, community access points, schools and universities, research centers, 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 Summit will look at the first two years of implementation of the Plan of Action.

The event is expected to welcome some 12,000 participants from governments, the private sector, civil society and leading media organizations. Confirmed participants include United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Heads of State and Government from more than 45 countries, top executives from over 200 companies -- including Alcatel, Ericsson, France Telecom, Google, Huawei, Infosys, Intel, KDDI, Microsoft, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Skype, Sun Microsystems, Telefónica and WorldSpace -- and leading development organizations, such as Grameen Foundation USA, MS Swaminathan Foundation and Telecoms Sans Frontières.

From digital divide to digital opportunity

"The Tunis phase is the Summit of solutions," said Yoshio Utsumi, the Secretary-General of 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."

A main goal will be to seek ways for developing countries to gain better access to the Internet and other ICTs. According to 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. ITU also estimates that 800,000 villages still lack connection by telephone line, the Internet or any other modern ICT.

"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, can 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 conference is expected to adopt a political document outlining Member States' political commitments and an operational document 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 ICTs in the developing world. Only a few paragraphs are still to be approved.

Acknowledging the key role played by the private sector, Member States have already endorsed focusing financial resources in several areas. These include ICT capacity-building programmes, regional backbone infrastructure and Internet Exchange Points, assistance for least developed countries and small island developing States, integration of ICTs into poverty eradication strategies, funding of small, medium and micro enterprises, fostering of local ICT manufacturing in developing countries, ICT regulatory reform, and local initiatives that deliver ICT services to communities.

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

Internet issues

Governments will also seek agreement on matters related to the use of the Internet. Over the years, the Internet has grown in value both for users and for governments, said Ambassador Janis Karklins, President of the Summit Preparatory Committee. "For many governments, a system that was not important ten 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, such as spam and cyber-crime, 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.

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.

An information trade fair

In parallel to the governmental Summit, some 250 separate roundtables, panels, presentations and media events are planned by civil society organizations, business entities and national delegations. High-level panels will give Heads of State and Government the opportunity to engage in public debates with prominent business and civil society leaders.

A major ICT trade fair, "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 ICT4All.

The Summit is organized by ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for telecommunications, with the support of the United Nations system as a whole.

For media accreditation, see:

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

For further information, please check www.itu.int/wsis  or contact Edoardo Bellando, United Nations Department of Public Information, (1 212) 963 8275, bellando@un.org , or Francois Coutu, (1 212) 963 9495, coutu@un.org .

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