Plan to bridge 'digital divide' comes together ahead of UN information summit

Plan to bridge 'digital divide' comes together ahead of UN information summit

With the results from a United Nations-backed preparatory conference laying the groundwork for the first-ever global information summit, a compelling international strategy is emerging which may ensure equal access by both developed and developing countries to the life-changing potential of new communication technologies (ICTs).

By developing a draft declaration and plan of action last Friday in Geneva, participants at the second in a series of preparatory meetings ahead of the World Summit on the Information Society reinforced the notion that the promise of new ICTs can - and must - be placed at the service of humanity. The two-phase World Summit will be held in Geneva from 10 to12 December, and in Tunis from16 to18 November 2005.

The working documents focus on ways to bridge the digital divide between developed and developing nations, created by an explosion of ICTs during the past two decades. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a worldwide organization responsible for setting global telecommunications standards worked with the UN to bring together the most influential representatives of government and the telecommunications industries for the two-week meeting.

The declaration and plan of action support the participants' collective belief in developing new and innovative partnerships between all sectors to close the gap between the information "haves" and "have nots." Promoting ideas such as a more humanizing role for the Internet and creating a "digital charter" by which economies higher up on the ICT development scale would be bound to help those at the lower end, participants acknowledged the need to gain the support and political will of the leaders of the world in order to build an equitable information society.

The draft declaration envisages the information society as an economic and social system where knowledge and information can help people to achieve their potential, promote sustainable economic and social development, and improve the quality of life for all. It states that without the widespread and innovative use of ICTs, the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) may prove impossible to attain.

The proposed action plan, taking into account the different levels of technological development around the world, will outline "flexible" solutions for the Summit, as well as provide benchmarks which could be used as a reference framework, including that all villages be connected by 2010, with a community access point by 2015, and that 90 per cent of the world's population be within wireless coverage by 2010 and 100 per cent by 2015. The draft declaration and action plan will be discussed at the next preparatory meeting in Geneva, scheduled for 15 to 26 September.