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PrepCom III - Opening session

09/15/2003, Ngathie Diop: CATIA

More than 1500 delegates from many countries all over the world attended the opening session of the third Prepatory meeting for the World Summit on the Information Society hosted by Switzerland at the Geneva International Center for Conferences (GICC). The third Prepatory meeting is the last meeting of the Prepatory Committee before the first stage of the World Summit on the Information Society that will be held in Geneva on 10-12 December 2003. The first and second meetings of the Prepcom were held in Geneva in July 2002 and February 2003.

More justice to fight the digital gap

The opening session began with a remark from Adama Samassekou, former Minister of Education of Mali and President of the Prepatory Committee, who reminded delegates of the importance of the third Prepatory meeting. He told them “Our third session is crucial to the success of the summit as we must finalize the work on the declaration and plan of action. This will be possible if we embrace the spirit of Paris, which was characterized by actively listening to each other, as well as by the commitment for a strong consensus and for creating a new international solidarity without avoiding the most controversial issues”. The outcome of PrepCom 3 is to present a new document that reflects strong political will to allow everyone to benefit from new technologies. As a unique opportunity for the world to address all challenges stemming from the use of ICTs, the World Summit on the Information Society should help narrow the digital gap between the developed and the developing countries. “This great gap is unacceptable for all humanity” is the key message of Adama Samassekou. Access to information is essential for development but there are great inequalities in the world. Only the third of the world population has access to ICTs while the great majority is excluded from them. As voiced by The President of the Prepatory Committee, “the poor remains poorer and the rich remains richer”. The great challenge facing the world is how to expand the reach of information for all human beings no matter their social, economic, cultural and geographical position. The world summit is mandated to face this challenge. It will bring all stakeholders including governments, civil society, the private sector and United Nations specialized agencies to come up with solutions to transform the digital gap into a digital opportunity. The “information for all” motto is crucial if ICTs have to play a vital role to help reach the United Nations millennium goal to eradicate poverty, hunger and diseases particularly in the developing world where nearly half of the population is living under the poverty line.

The need to narrow the digital gap was expressed virtually in all opening speeches. The remark from Mr. Yoshio Utsumi, secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) highlighted the fact that despite progress of modern networks, “the benefits of information society are not being shared” because of the inexistence of communication infrastructures in remote rural areas. Mr. Moritz Leuenberger, Minister of Transport, Energy and Communications representing the Swiss government concurred. In his address to the plenary he stressed: “it is of little use if we highlight all the wonderful forms of applying these technologies when half of humanity has no access to a telephone, let alone the Internet. And when a fifth of humanity can neither read nor write, Internet access is just as irrelevant to them”.
Noting the importance of ICTs in political and economic development, the Special Adviser of United Nations Secretary General also stressed the need to face the challenge of the digital divide. He said “what we need is not only a more prosperous world but also a more equal world”. The first stage of the world summit on the Information Society that will be held in Geneva in December 2003 will look at ways to make the world a better place where among many other development goals, cultural diversity, free flow of information, good education system and good health services are fully implemented.

Call for strong political commitment and international solidarity

The United Nations Millennium Goal contains goals for development including the eradication of poverty, of hunger and diseases. But there are also global targets: education for all by 2015, the connection of all villages by 2010, the connection of all hospitals and health centers by 2010, access to information in all languages by 2010 etc. To meet these development expectations, world leaders have to show strong political will to come up with concrete actions based on a new form of partnership between all peoples. This need for stronger political commitment was expressed by Mr.Yoshio Utsumi, secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union, who called on world leaders to move to a concrete plan of action to address the challenges facing the rising information society. More than 40 heads of State have confirmed their participation in the first stage of the World Summit on the Information Society. This high level participation means that governments have fully understood the importance of the summit. But, as voiced by Mr. Utsumi, the key element for the meeting’s success lies in “their political will to tackle the injustice of the digital gap as well as in “their commitment to develop new legal and policy frameworks appropriate to cyberspace”.

In recognition of this reality, the Head of the Swiss delegation announced some proposals to boost governments and the private sector to finance communication infrastructures in remote rural areas where they are mostly needed. “We need a joint strategy, a common political will to achieve the development goals,” he told delegates. The summit on the information society is an opportunity for all stakeholders including governments, the civil society, the private sector and international organizations to build a new and constructive partnership for the widespread use of ICTs for social, political and economic development.

The third Prepatory meeting for the summit on the information society which began on 15 September ends on 26 September 2003. Delegates have 12 days to identify all areas of conflicts and seek for political consensus. The outcome declaration of Principles and action plan should reflect the largest consensus among all stakeholders.

This is crucial for the success of the summit which will be held in 2 phases: Geneva (10-12 December 2003) and Tunisia (16-18 November 2005).

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