Inclusive Summit Reflects Diversity of Information Society
After months of intensive preparations, the final touches were in place for the official opening of the Geneva phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which took place today.
Visitors, delegations, staff and volunteers arrived to a hugely busy and varied Summit. Beyond the Plenary and Roundtable meetings, other Summit events, including talks, debates, presentations and side-events, amount to some 288 in total, with 89 programmed for day one alone. As one commentator pointed out "the inclusive nature of the Summit event is a reflection of the very nature of the information society we are striving to create". Information on events can be found at:
Calm After the Storm: Last-Minute Success on Key Texts
The marathon attempt to complete the two key WSIS documents, the Draft Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action, for presentation to Heads of State and Government this week paid off after long hours of final drafting and negotiations. The Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) finally approved the documents on Tuesday 9 December, a tight 24 hours before the official Summit opening. The third session of the resumed PrepCom-3 ended with handshakes and congratulations all round, as the last bones of contention were resolved.
"We are very proud to present to Heads of State, Ministers and government delegates the finalized documents, free of square brackets", said one PrepCom delegate.
Consensus Reached on Internet Governance and Financing
PrepCom, the first UN negotiating mechanism in which civil society and private sector players have taken such an active role, has seen some long and fraught negotiations over the last year. But the hard work paid off as it reached consensus on a large number of issues including Internet governance, intellectual property rights, the media, security, traditional knowledge, labour standards, and political issues.
Resolution of some issues remained sticky until the very end though. Notably, on the two key controversial issues of Internet governance and financing the final Draft Plan of Action sets up a process of further study and negotiation to be concluded in Tunis. The agreed text asks the UN Secretary-General "to set up a working group on Internet governance, in an open and inclusive process that ensures a mechanism for the full and active participation of governments, the private sector and civil society from both developing and developed countries, involving relevant intergovernmental and international organizations and forums, to investigate and make proposals for action, as appropriate, on the governance of Internet by 2005". The group is to prepare a report to be presented for consideration and appropriate action for the second phase of WSIS in Tunis in 2005.
The Draft Plan of Action also foresees a number of actions with respect to financing, including the commitment to thoroughly review the adequacy of all existing financial mechanisms in meeting the challenges of ICT for development by the end of December 2004. "This review shall be conducted by a Task Force under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General and submitted for consideration to the second phase of this summit". Based on the conclusion of the review, improvements and innovations of financing mechanisms will be considered including the effectiveness, the feasibility and the creation of a voluntary Digital Solidarity Fund, as mentioned in the Declaration of Principles. The final texts can be found at: http://www.itu.int/wsis/.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
The main commitments that Heads of State will be adopting cover ten objectives, to be achieved by 2015 at the latest. These include connecting all villages on the planet (as many as 1.5 million remain unconnected at present) and bringing ICTs to all schools, universities, hospitals, research centres, etc. There is also a commitment to provide a website and e-mail address for every government department in the world.
The basic working documents show that the first phase of WSIS is primarily an agenda-setting event, that will create a shared basis for work between stakeholders, not only in the two years to Tunis, but in the decade that will follow. "What is important is not so much what the documents say, but the actions themselves that the different stakeholders have committed to", said one commentator.
Heads of State Express Views at Opening Ceremony
Chaired by the President of the Swiss Confederation, Mr Pascal Couchepin, the Summit Opening Ceremony saw speakers including UN Secretary-General Mr Kofi Annan, ITU Secretary-General Mr Yoshio Utsumi, the President of the Republic of Tunisia, Mr Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and the President of the WSIS Preparatory Committee, Mr Adama Samassékou, take the floor to launch the Summit. Special thanks were expressed to the Governments of the Summit host countries, Switzerland and Tunisia, as well as to the regional host countries, for their valuable commitment to the WSIS process.
Drawing attention to the unique multi-stakeholder process which has been followed throughout the WSIS process, Ms Kicki Nordström, representing civil society, and Mr Mohammad Omran, representing the private sector also gave opening speeches. Ms Nordström, who is visually impaired and read her speech from a Braille text, highlighted how the information society has to become more inclusive if technology is to help those who have often been left on the sidelines where access to information is concerned.
For more on the Summit opening see the press release at:
Quotes of the Day
Below is a selection of the more than 50 presentations to the Plenary session:
"Information and communication technologies are not a panacea or magic formula, but they can improve the lives of everyone on this planet. However, while technology will shape the future, it is people who shape technology, and decide what it could and should be used for. These new technologies should, therefore, be embraced, while recognizing that this is an endeavour that transcends technology."
- Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General.
"I call upon the political leaders of the world to enter into forging a 'unity of purpose' in aiming to achieve universal access. If we do not take action now, the remaining digital gap will widen."
- Yoshio Utsumi, ITU Secretary-General.
"The Summit offers a new window of opportunity to the world to accelerate human development. Issues of languages, cultures, religions, and dialogue between cultures and civilizations take centre-stage in this process."
- Joaquim Alberto Chissano, President of Mozambique.
"This is no longer the time to dream. It is the time to build."
- Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Prime Minister of France.
"Today, ICTs are recognized as a necessity, not a matter of choice, and there is a need for less-developed countries to leapfrog forward. Broadband connectivity to schools is a step in the right direction. [ ] Development partners should join together with disadvantaged nations to help them achieve their goals."
- Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda.
Original speeches from the session are available at: www.itu.int/wsis/geneva/coverage/archive-en-op|10.asp.
ITU Forges Ahead on New Partnerships
Two new partnership agreements - in the form of Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) - were signed today between ITU and the World Bank, and ITU and Cisco. Partnership agreements were also set to be signed between ITU and Inmarsat, Cameroon, Rwanda and the Kyrgyz Republic, IIMT Fribourg, Rascom, Jamaica and Unesco, the French Institut National des Télécommunications and Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, as well as for a project involving India and Bhutan, with the collaboration of Encore Software and Worldspace.
Finally, Mr Hamadoun Touré, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) announced that a partnership agreement has been developed with the International Institute of Telecommunications of Montreal, Canada, with the support of the Canadian Government. The agreement will provide technical assistance and training to the ITU Centres of Excellence Network worldwide through the "Tap on Telecom" project. The first phase is set to commence at the beginning of 2004 in Africa.
The announcements lay the foundation for further cooperation towards building a truly inclusive information society, which is a key goal of the Summit. The ITU partnerships also set an example for other types of alliances needed to deliver the Summit's Action plan which will be endorsed by Heads of State and governments later in the week. "These partnerships are important first steps toward achieving the goals of the Summit, which aim to ensure that the benefits of ICTs are available to all, not just a privileged few," said ITU Secretary-General, Yoshio Utsumi.
US Announces USD 400 Million for ICT Development
The United States has pledged a USD 400 million grant to support telecommunications and IT development in developing countries. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), an agency of the US Government, has established what it calls a "support facility" to encourage US investment in the sector, which it views as a "cornerstone for economic growth", in the words of Peter Watson, OPIC president and CEO. The facility builds on the USD 5 billion previously provided by OPIC since its creation in 1971, which has gone towards 197 ICT projects. It will be used to fund joint ventures between the public and private sectors in the 152 countries where the agency operates, with priority to projects lacking other forms of financing. Funding initiatives of this kind show a strong policy-level commitment to address several of the goals of the World Summit on the Information Society.
The new facility, said US Ambassador David Gross, was an important aid to support human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law, among other democratic principles. The direct support to be given by the facility was the "most effective means", in his Government's view, for achieving the goals of providing additional capacity in ICT infrastructure or human resources development.
Global Visions on the Information Society: Students' Perspectives on ICTs
As a striking reminder of the human impact of ICTs, visitors to Hall 2 at Palexpo are welcomed by a colourful display of children's pictures, illustrating how children from all corners of the globe think ICTs help improve quality of life. More than 1 500 drawings were received from children and youth from 38 countries around the world for the WSIS Poster Competition, organized by the World Summit on the Information Society in collaboration with the United Nations Cyberschoolbus. Young students from primary, intermediate and secondary schools took part in the competition.
Three winners -- one from each age group -- were chosen by a panel of judges. In addition, three winners were chosen from each of five geographic regions: North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. The winning pictures can be magically transformed into an electronic postcard and sent to the chosen recipient by e-mail. They are available on the WSIS website at: www.itu.int/wsis/ecard/
Cultural Diversity in Societies
A UNESCO side event provided an overview of a number of important initiatives that used ICTs in promoting cultural diversity. These ranged from the support of traditional media, for example, supporting of small and medium publishing enterprises in central America through on-line workshops and e-training, and new media, for example, the digi-arts knowledge portal (www.portal.unesco.org/digiarts) developed by UNESCO is aimed at the dissemination of information on digital tools used in the arts. The portal supports creativity in areas such as virtual reality and electronic music.
Setting the World Agenda
At the World Electronic Media Forum (WEMF), opened yesterday by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Mr Pascal Couchepin, President of the Swiss Confederation, Mr Nitin Desai, a panellist during the forum, expressed the view that one of the more significant changes brought about by the introduction of new media, such as news distribution through web-based publishing is the relatively cheapness of disseminating information. However, significant measures still need to be taken to ensure that access to new media channels become more available to the poor. The popularity of mobile phones in developing countries provides us with a heartening example, it was emphasized.
One of the day's most popular events was the World Summit Award ceremony for the "World's Best e Contents", which recognized the most compelling and empowering Internet content from across the globe to celebrate innovation. Some 136 countries submitted video footage, clips and electronic products. Forty winners were announced in various categories under eight categories including e-learning, e-health, e-inclusion, etc. One notable observation was the proliferation of mobile content from Africa, as the continent connects over a mobile infrastructure. More information is available at: www.wsis-award.org/.
Child Protection on the Internet
At a forum on Internet rights, the Internet Rights Observatory publicized its website on the topic of protecting children from harmful content on the Internet (www.internet-observatory.be). The speakers called upon government and commercial bodies to promote the use of filters and forms of certification to filter harmful content. In one initiative, attempts are under way to create a new top-level domain (TLD) that would be exclusively for child-appropriate content. The domain might, for example, be called ".kids".
Free Software, Free Society?
A well-known commentator on information and intellectual property, Professor Laurence Lessig of Stanford University (United States), spoke of a project aimed at creating a body of culture/content (e.g. pictures, music, film, etc.) that would not be subject to the traditional forms of copyright. Licences to use this material would allow their dissemination and improvement and at the same time promoting its freedom of use. Concern was expressed that the public domain of freely available content was shrinking in the face of expanding use of intellectual property rights (IPR).
Broadband and Mobility of ICT's to Drive Next Wave of Productivity Growth
At a side event organized by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCBI), entitled "What makes ICT effective growth engines?" Mr Jorma Ollila Chairman and CEO, Nokia Corporation, said he regarded as broadband and mobile technologies as the key to the next wave of productivity growth. The year 2004 was viewed by speakers as the first year, after around three years of zero growth in the ICT sector, to boost major investments. The main area of benefits from which the productivity will be derived are expected to be supply and demand chains, which are becoming streamlined through web-based services. According to speakers, the role of government in this new wave of productivity growth will come through:
Support through tax regimes;
Providing intellectual capital to the country by educating citizens;
Establishment/refinement of appropriate regulatory frameworks to promote competition.
ICTs and Security Challenges
Recently, governments around the world have been passing laws to give the government access to individual telecommunication records such as phone call lists and web surfing records of users. According to one side-event speaker, as the technology gets more intricate, the more privacy we lose through these laws. While phone records may not be very controversial, wireless LANs and mobile phone records can be used to track individuals.
Organizations have a slow "metabolic rate", said another speaker on security issues, and are very slow to respond to events such as hacking, whereas hackers are dynamic and very quick to adjust. Organizations must be able to do the same or they will fall victim to constant attacks, it was urged. The answer proposed here was to create a "rapid response" mechanism in the organization. Insider treats should also not be overlooked, it was argued. More information is available at: www.diplomacy.edu.
WSIS Media Office