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On World Telecommunications Day, UN highlights power of Internet

On World Telecommunications Day, UN highlights power of Internet

The international community and the United Nations system today marked World Telecommunications Day, calling attention this year to the Internet's impact on a wide range of educational, environmental and health issues, but noting that access to the World Wide Web was available to only a fraction of the globe's inhabitants.

"The Internet epitomizes today's globalized world, but we should be reminded that it is available only to a minority: 5 per cent of the world's population - and of that figure, only 15 per cent are in developing countries," said General Assembly President Harri Holkeri, in his message marking the Day.

This year, it is observed under the theme "The Internet: challenges, opportunities and prospects."

Mr. Holkeri said the Internet could promote economic and social development by combining new and old technologies - such as Internet and satellite communication at one end and village radios at the other - and by seeking complementarities between them. He urged countries to develop solid basic infrastructures and the political will to support investment in new technologies.

In his message for the Day, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that, in order for developing countries to reap the benefits of the Internet, the content of the World Wide Web must be available in many different languages - and not just a privileged few - and that all nations must have the requisite infrastructure, most notably telephone lines.

"Knowledge has long been synonymous with power, but with the advent of the Internet, access to knowledge is quickly becoming a requirement for power-whether social, political, or economic," he said. "In our increasingly interconnected world, we must work together to see that all people have access to the knowledge the Internet has to offer."

For his part, the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Yoshio Utsumi, said that programmes should be developed to increase technology and computer skills among young people so as to build, from an early age, an Internet culture. "Greater awareness of the benefits of on-line access to information, goods and services must be actively pursued throughout society and in particular in small and medium enterprises," he said. "These are only some of the challenges raised by the growing popularity of the Internet. But perhaps the most fundamental issue is to ensure that the Internet does not become yet another element in a widening 'digital divide'."