International Report

By Ashling, Jim | Information Today, May 2003 | Go to article overview

International Report


Ashling, Jim, Information Today


World Summit

The upcoming World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) has been mentioned in two recent Information Today reports: "Online Information's Wrap-Up Session" (February 2003, p.40) and "Open Access and the Public Domain" (see page 27 of this issue). Just what is this meeting all about and who should attend?

Following resolutions passed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the United Nations Administration Committee on Coordination, the U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 56/183, endorsing a framework proposed by the ITU and inviting that organization to assume the leading managerial role. It also asked that key stakeholders convene a meeting to gain a better understanding of information and communications technologies (ICTs) and consider how they can benefit the world community.

It was agreed that WSIS would fall under, the patronage of the U.N. Secretary-General and be held in two phases: a meeting Dec. 10-12, 2003, in Geneva and a follow-up event Nov. 16-18, 2005, in Tunisia. The gatherings will bring together heads of state, executive heads of U.N. agencies, industry leaders, non-governmental organizations, media representatives, and civil society.

The first event will address the broad range of themes concerning the information society. As the U.N. resolution states, the purpose of WSIS is to develop a "common vision and understanding of the information society and the adoption of a declaration and plan of action for implementation by governments, international institutions, and all sectors of civil society."

The summit's agenda is being developed at a series of intergovernmental preparatory committee meetings (PrepCoins). So far, the participants have identified the following main categories:

* Access to ICTs for all

* The use of ICTs as a tool for economic and social development

* Confidence and security in the use of ICTs

ITU developed a Web site that provides background resources on these themes and allows users to comment on them (http://www.itu.int/osg/spu/wsis-themes).

The theme dedicated to access for all will address the digital divide, the huge disparity in the communications infrastructure, and information dissemination among the wealthy and least-developed nations. The ITU site says: "The summit will provide an opportunity to evaluate those success stories that have allowed an increasing number of developing countries to develop world-class ICT networks and services. For many, the route to success has involved a combination of private-sector participation, market liberalization, and the creation of independent regulatory agencies."

Subthemes under the economic and social development category include the following:

* Development and poverty eradication

* Democracy and governance

* Cultural diversity and sustainable development

* Protecting the vulnerable and meeting the special needs of Africa

The third category, which concerns confidence and security, will address data privacy and intellectual property rights for end users as well as the needs and concerns of telecommunications operators, financial institutions, and corporations. The ITU site says: "Building confidence in ICTs requires, [among other things], the implementation of appropriate policies and balanced regulations, the removal of obstacles to cooperation, the fostering of international standards, and the promotion of regulatory harmonization."

For information on how to participate in WSIS and to view the list of institutions and individuals who are already involved, visit the WSIS home page (http://www.itu.int/wsis). Accreditation and registration are free of charge.

It's not surprising that the delegations listed are dominated by national and international government agencies. In addition, most of the business-sector representatives come from large telecommunications companies. …

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