January 2006

Conference Report

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The second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in Geneva concluded on 18 Novemeber 2005 after almost a week of intense negotiations with a credit of eight plenary sessions, 308 parallel events organised by 264 organisations and 33 press conferences attracting around 19'000 participants worldwide.

Hailed as a resounding success by national delegations from 174 States and participants from more than 800 entities including UN agencies, private sector companies and civil society organisations, the Summit was convened in Tunis to tackle the problem of the 'digital divide' and harness the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to boost the drive of economic and social development. The two resultant documents of the Summit are the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society which were endorsed by world leaders at the closing plenary of the Summit. Uniquely enough the WSIS was held in two phases; in developed country and developing country. This has ensured that the full range of issues of the Information Society were addressed at the same time highlighting the critical need to bridge the digital divide.

Global agreement on crucial issues 
Three key issues dominated the preparatory process leading to the Tunis Summit are (i) Internet governance, (ii) financing strategies, and (iii) implementation mechanisms for the Action Plan developed by the first phase of WSIS in 2003, in Geneva.

Internet Governance: The breakthrough agreement on Internet governance brokered in Tunis acknowledges the need for enhanced cooperation to enable governments and is based around a number of newly agreed principles and future mechanisms. The process of moving towards the enhanced cooperation will be initiated by the end of Q1 2006. Another important element of the Tunis output document is the creation of a new Internet Governance Forum (IGF), to be convened by the UN Secretary-General, to foster and enable multi-stakeholder dialogue on public policy and development issues.

Financing mechanisms: The WSIS outcome texts reaffirm the Geneva agreements that information and communication technologies are a key tool in national development strategies. For that reason, financing of ICT deployment is vital in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. The document welcomes the creation of the Digital Solidarity Fund. It underlines the importance of providing quality, affordable communication access to all citizens, and notes the inequalities that presently exist.

Follow-up and implementation: Tunis is not the end of the road for WSIS. As the Summit of Solutions, the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society recognises that it is now time to turn principles into actions. For the Tunis phase of the Summit, it has also created a so-called Golden Book listing projects announced during the Summit. More than 200 projects have been included to date, many of which are multi-million dollar undertakings. The eleven Action Lines in the original Geneva Action Plan putforth key elements in the building of the Information Society. The Tunis Agenda now establishes a specific list of possible moderators/facilitators for each of these Action Lines. Through ECOSOC the UN Secretary-General will report to the General Assembly by June 2006 on the modalities of interagency coordination of implementation. At the same meeting, Mr.Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of the Summit, will report on the outcomes.

The Dialogue continues
The world of ICTs is characterised by fast-paced and non-stop technological change. The Internet of tomorrow will look very different from the Internet of today, as revealed in ITU's new report, The Internet of Things, which was released at the Tunis summit. The follow-up process established by WSIS contains several built-in milestones to ensure that policy review and debate continue, so that the outcomes of the Summit can be shaped to changes in the world of ICTs.

At the national level, all countries are called upon to develop national e-strategies as an integral part of national development plans and poverty reduction strategies. The deadline for this action is 2015, but many countries have already started to implement such plans. Affordability of access is a critical part of bridging the Digital Divide. As tasked by the Summit, ITU will continue its efforts to study the question of international Internet connectivity as a matter of urgency.

The Tunis Agenda calls on ECOSOC to oversee the system-wide follow-up of the Tunis and Geneva outcomes. Consistent with the reform of ECOSOC requested by world leaders at the Summit in September in New York, the Tunis output calls on ECOSOC to review the mandate of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, including the multi-stakeholder approach.

Finally, the UN General Assembly is asked to declare 17 May as World Information Society Day. 17 May has traditionally been celebrated as World Telecommunications Day, so ITU will collaborate in this process to give even greater magnitude to that event. 

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