Press Releases

UNIS/INF/113
14 November 2005

Background Release

Worldwide Access to Uncensored Objective Information

Phase II of the World Summit on Information Society to Open in Tunis on 16 November

VIENNA, 14 November 2005 (UN Information Service) -- Governments, private sector and civil society representatives will gather this week from Wednesday 16 to Friday 18 November in Tunis, Tunisia, for the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

The digital revolution, fired by the engines of information and communications technology (ICT), has fundamentally changed the way people think, behave, communicate, work and earn their livelihood. However, while the number of Internet users has grown substantially in some poor regions, overall the gap between developed and developing countries remains wide. To illustrate, while 89 per cent of enterprises in European Union nations are connected to the Internet, the same holds true for only 5 per cent of firms in Mauritius and 9 per cent in Thailand.

Recognizing that this new dynamic requires global discussion, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), following a proposal by the Government of Tunisia, resolved in 1998 to hold a World Summit on the Information Society. In 2001, the ITU Council decided to hold the Summit in two phases, the first from 10-12 December 2003 in Geneva, and the second from 16-18 November 2005 in Tunis, a decision that was welcomed by the United Nations General Assembly.

The objective of the first phase, for which more than 11,000 participants from over 175 countries gathered, was to develop and foster a clear statement of political will and take concrete steps to establish the foundations for an information society for all, reflecting all the different interests at stake. In this first phase, the participants agreed on a Declaration of Principles outlining their vision of an information society and a Plan of Action to improve access to ICTs.

This week, around 12,000 participants from UN agencies, Governments, the private sector and civil society, among them United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and representatives from well-known companies such as Alcatel, Ericsson, Intel, Microsoft and Nokia, will gather in Tunis for the second phase of the WSIS. The main aim of the Summit is to find ways of bridging the digital divide, and also to discuss the future of Internet governance and to implement the 2003 Plan of Action effectively.

The highlights of the Summit include the launch of a groundbreaking ITU report The Internet of Things, the ITU Connect the World Roundtable, and the launch of the Hundred Dollar Laptop - initiative on 16 November. Another major event accompanying the WSIS will be the "ICT4all exhibition", which will showcase the activities of more than 100 NGOs and private sector enterprises. It will demonstrate how to achieve the goal to make high quality digital information accessible to everybody.

Austria will also be represented at the "ICT4all exhibition" with the Federal Chancellery, four ministries and nine companies showing their innovative projects at the Austrian e-Content village. Also at ICT4all, the Vienna-based United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) will show how ICT can contribute to small-and medium enterprise (SME) development, from identification of business opportunities to the conclusion of partnerships. UNIDO incorporates ICT in its technical assistance and global forum activities to foster information sharing and international networking among SMEs through e-partnerships; e-appraisal for project development, productivity and quality; and e-networking for business and knowledge cooperation.

Moreover, there will be approximately 300 parallel events featuring presentations and debates by WSIS participants on important topics for tomorrow's information society. One of these parallel events is the World Electronic Media Forum 15-16 November, organized by the Arab States Broadcasting Union (ASBU) and the World Electronic Media Forum Association (WEMF) in collaboration with the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI). The Forum will bring together media executives and practitioners from developed and developing countries, as well as other policy makers and United Nations officials, to discuss the role of the electronic media in the information society.

ICTs are central to economic development. According to the most recent Information Economy Report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the digital divide hurts economic development. It points out that non-industrialized countries face challenges in the area of commerce and trade because they have little access to the Internet. Especially in the area of tourism, the Internet could bring advantages to developing countries, as many travelers like to book their holiday online. Being connected to the Internet means having access to a plethora of information, a highly important economic resource in the 21st century. Thus, ICTs can be seen as an important prerequisite for economic growth in the developing world.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed the importance of ICTs for economic and social progress: "From trade to telemedicine, from education to environmental protection, we have in our hands, on our desktops and in the skies above, the ability to improve standards of living for millions upon millions of people. Information and communications technologies are not a panacea or magic formula. But they can improve the lives of everyone on this planet. We have tools that can propel us toward the Millennium Development Goals; instruments with which to advance the cause of freedom and democracy; vehicles with which to propagate knowledge and mutual understanding. We have all of this potential. The challenge before this Summit is what to do with it."

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For information on media accreditation, please visit:

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

Journalists are encouraged to accredit for WSIS even if they cannot attend the Summit itself, as, in line with the Summit's theme of promoting the use of ICTs, the WSIS 2005 Summit Newsroom will allow journalists to go on "virtual assignment" to Tunis in four languages providing access to a range of WSIS information services including downloadable photos, daily event highlights and press releases, live webcasts and access to ICT statistics, background articles and ITU reports.

For further information on WSIS, please contact:

Sanjay Acharya
Communication Officer WSIS Executive Secretariat
Tel.: +41 22 730 5046
Email: sanjay.acharya@itu.int