We want political and business leaders to bridge the digital gap

Updated: Nov 13 2005, 05:30am hrs
The first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was held in Geneva in December 2003 where 175 countries adopted a Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action to bridge the digital divide in the world. The second phase will be held in Tunis on November 16-18. The summit will focus on a host of issues, including putting the Plan of Action into practice and reaching agreements between the developed and the developing countries in the fields of the Internet governance and financing mechanisms. The summit is being lead by Nitin Desai, who is special advisor to the United Nations Secretary General. In an interview with Jyoti Verma, he talks about the challenges the world leaders will face at the summit. Excerpts:

What is the agenda of WSIS at Tunis

Our main goal is to find ways for developing countries to gain better access to the Internet and information and communication technologies (ICTs), helping them improve their life standards right from their knowledge base to their work culture, and spread awareness about diseases and other crucial issues. This will aim to bridge the huge communication technology and infrastructure gap existing currently in the world. This will include connecting villages, community access points, schools and universities, research centres, libraries, health centres and hospitals, and local and central government departments. Besides looking at the first two years of implementation of the Plan of Action after the Geneva summit, the Tunis episode will seek to encourage the development of content meant to empower the nations.

What are the unresolved issues

The prime concerns have been the Internet governance, financing issues and lack of freedom of expression on part of the developing nations. These apart, issues like privacy intervention, high-priced Internet infrastructure and absence of an information superhighway open for all are the other hassles.

For historical reasons, the United States has the ultimate authority over some of the Internets core resources. There is a wide agreement on the need of more international participation in discussions of the Internet governance issues. The disagreement is over how to achieve this.

What has been the progress till now

The best change over the years has been the growing inclination towards adopting ICTs. The way India has made use of IT, fetching the country not only profits, but a huge percentage of employed people, it has been really impressive. Moreover, the keen interest shown by a few of the companies towards bridging the digital divide is also worth mentioning. We see few cases of companies working on local fonts and taking the IT power to rural areas. However, with so much said and done, there is still much to be put in when we refer to creating the information superhighway helping the other nations in need.

Also, an agreement on a voluntary solidarity fund has been constituted. We have nations, companies, municipalities, people and various sectors contributing to the fund.

What is the United Nations role in this direction

Through the World Summit on the Information Society, United Nations aims to create a barrier-free and open for dialogue platform. We plan to bring together political, business and civil society leaders to take action to bridge the digital gap, so that the benefits of the information society can be shared by all.

We want corporates and governments to be flexible and evolutionary. We want our the stakeholders, especially the service providers, to think beyond and get ready for technological advancements in coming years.