18 June 2002
"Digital Divide" Still Yawns as Widely as Ever, Says Secretary-General, as General Assembly Opens Two-Day Session on Information Technologies
Senegal's President Cites Hopeful Signs of "Digital Revolution" for Africa; Speakers Say New Technologies Must Be Used to Reach Millennium Development Goals
NEW YORK, 17 June (UN Headquarters) -- Despite commendable efforts and various initiatives, the digital divide still yawned as widely as ever, with billions still unconnected to an increasingly wired global society, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.
Addressing the opening meeting of the General Assembly session devoted to information and communication technologies (ICT) for development, he said the world was still very far from ensuring that their benefits were available to all. He stressed that efforts to reverse that situation must be based on the real needs of those requiring help and on their full and genuine involvement. Better ways must be found to ensure the participation of developing countries at all stages, he added.
The ICT Task Force established last year was becoming a key forum for discussions on policy, and particularly on how ICT could help achieve the Millennium Development Goals, he said. While the high-level panel of experts convened three years ago had produced solid proposals and recommendations, some of which had already been implemented, there was a clear lesson for the Task Force and other initiatives: to be effective, they must be nurtured by stakeholders, supported by continued involvement and provided with adequate resources over the long term.
Also addressing the session, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, coordinator of the New Partnership for the Development of Africa (NEPAD), said the struggle to harness the benefits of new technologies was well under way, and signs were pointing hopefully in the direction of a digital revolution for Africa. One example of recent advances was the use of underwater fibre-optic networks that now linked millions of Africans with their neighbours, as well as people living in other regions. That technology aimed to connect the African economy with the global network at a lower cost.
President Wade said partnerships must provide equal opportunities to all countries, for all men and women. He urged global actors to look first at the widespread gaps in the availability of computers and appealed to all interested partners, donors, scientists and educators to work toward providing all nations with a "common scientific laboratory" for the benefit of all.
General Assembly President Han Seung-soo (Republic of Korea) said the ICT revolution was opening new opportunities for economic growth and social development. New technologies could make a tangible difference in the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world, empowering them to take full advantage of the globalized world economy.
He said ICT could contribute to the empowerment of women, reduce gender inequalities and promote the active participation of elderly and disabled persons in socio-economic development. Moreover, they could bridge the distances between rural and urban communities and strengthen the global fight against diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. However, he added that, given the very dynamism of new information technologies, every day that passed without effective action further widened the digital divide. The United Nations played an indispensable role in that regard in ensuring the effectiveness of ICT-for-development and must work to bring all the stakeholders together.
Echoing the importance of collaboration, Ivan Simonovic (Croatia), President of the Economic and Social Council, said partnership had been carried to an unprecedented level at the International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey last March. The upcoming World Summit for Sustainable Development would provide a powerful new platform for launching partnership efforts to achieve more balanced development, where ICT should be given an important role.
He said the World Summit on the Information Society, to be held in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005, would be a major opportunity to discuss further actions needed to bridge the digital divide and to use the full potential of ICT to achieve the Millennium Goals.
Also speaking this morning were the Secretary-General of the Information Technology Union (ITU); Chairman of the United Nations Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Task Force; and the Chairman of the Group of 8 Digital Opportunity Task Force (DOT Force).
Other speakers included representatives of Canada, Venezuela (on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China); Iran; United States; China; Japan; Algeria; Republic of Korea; Sri Lanka; Spain (on behalf of the European Union); Andorra and Romania.
The representatives of Pakistan, Peru, Qatar, Nauru (on behalf of the Pacific Island Group), Malaysia, Estonia, Russian Federation, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Kenya, Mongolia, Ecuador, Norway, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Uruguay and Ethiopia also spoke.
Prior to the opening of the session, delegates observed a moment of silence in memory of the late Charles James Antrobus, Governor-General of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who died on 3 June.
The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 18 June, to continue its discussions.
The General Assembly met this morning to consider the issue of Information and Communication Technologies for Development. For background, see Press Release GA/10025 issued 14 June.
HAN SEUNG-SOO (Republic of Korea), President of the General Assembly, said the development of information and communication technologies (ICT) was the major trend driving the process of globalization, which was shaping the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century. The ICT revolution was opening new opportunities for economic growth and social development. New technologies could make a tangible difference in the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world, empowering them to take full advantage of the globalized world economy.
He said that ICT could contribute to the empowerment of women, reduce gender inequalities and promote the active participation of elderly and disabled persons in socio-economic development. Moreover, ICT could bridge the distance between rural and urban communities and strengthen the global fight against diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. However, he continued, the world was faced with the sad reality that the immense potential of ICT was not currently being harnessed. Indeed, the digital divide threatened to further marginalize the economies of people in developing countries, as well as countries with economies in transition.
Even more important, he said, was, given the very dynamism of new information technology, every day that passed without effective action further widened the digital divide. The need for a concerted effort by the international community was a matter of utmost urgency. All must agree that political leadership and commitment at the highest level were necessary in order to integrate ICT for development programmes into national development strategies, for creating supportive regulatory and legal environments, and for building an effective matrix of international cooperation.
He said the full and early realization of the potential of ICT for development at the global level required more than just coherence and leadership at the national level -- it needed a broad international commitment of political leaders acting in concert to create an environment where ICT could promote development for all. The United Nations played an indispensable role in that regard. In order to ensure the effectiveness of ICT-for-development activities at all levels, the United Nations must work to bring all the stakeholders together. Further, the effective and sustainable involvement of the private sector was vital, as it was an essential source of technological innovation that generated economic growth, employment and the creation of wealth.
The task of the current meeting, he continued, was to raise the political profile and awareness, in order to mobilize further support from key partners to address the important challenges ahead. The Assembly was the most universal and representative forum for evolving a meaningful, action-oriented and coordinated international response to the challenges of ICT in the service of development for all. He hoped the meeting could also contribute to preparations for the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society, to be convened in 2003 in Switzerland and in 2005 in Tunisia.
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that over the last few years, a wide consensus had emerged on the potential of information and communication technologies to promote economic growth, combat poverty and facilitate the integration of developing countries into the global economy. Seizing the opportunities of the digital revolution was one of the most pressing challenges and a great deal had already been done.
The high-level panel of experts convened three years ago had produced solid proposals and recommendations, some of which had already been implemented, he said. The ICT Task Force established last year was becoming a key forum for discussions on policy, and particularly on how ICT could help achieve the Millennium Development Goals. It was also becoming a platform for forging partnerships among different stakeholders and building bridges to other similar initiatives, especially the Digital Opportunity Task Force created by the Group of 8 industrialized countries in July 2000.
Yet despite commendable efforts and various initiatives, the world was still very far from ensuring that the benefits of ICT were available to all, he said. The digital divide still yawned as widely as ever, with billions still unconnected to an increasingly wired global society. He stressed that efforts to reverse that situation must be based on the real needs on those requiring help. They must be fully and genuinely involved and better ways must be found to ensure the participation of developing countries at all stages.
He emphasized the need to sustain such efforts over the long term. In recent years a number of promising initiatives had not lived up to expectations, principally due to insufficient long-term commitment on the part of initiators and sponsors. There was a clear lesson for the Task Force and other initiatives: to be effective over time, they must be nurtured by stakeholders, supported by continued involvement and provided with adequate resources over the long term. There was a real need for the many initiatives to come together, united by a common purpose and common determination.
ABDOULAYE WADE, President of Senegal, said the countries of the South, those suffering most from the serious ill-effects of the digital divide, had initiated the meeting today. Indeed the New Partnership for the Development of Africa (NEPAD) had made closing the gap in the use of new information technologies a high priority on its agenda. He said that the establishment of Internet networks to enhance transfer of information between governments of the region and continent, promote "e-trade" as the driving force for development in Africa and establishing a trust fund to assist the continent were the priorities for NEPAD.
The struggle to harness the benefits of new technologies was well under way, he continued, and signs were pointing hopefully in the direction of a digital revolution for Africa. One example of recent advances was the use of underwater fibre-optic networks that now linked millions of Africans with their neighbours, as well as people living in other regions. That technology aimed to connect the African economy with the global network at a lower cost. That technological miracle had been implemented in a relatively short time and stood as an example of new technological advancements that NEPAD, along with private partners, was striving to promote.
In Senegal, he had launched a "cyber village" to host major enterprises and promote start-up projects for young Africans wishing to participate in the new economy. Indeed, the time had come for Africa to make use of its human resources through, among other means, e-trade and e-business strategies. He was convinced that full participation could be achieved in a short period of time. He highlighted another of Senegal's achievements -- the recent tele-medicine programme inaugurated just three days ago. That programme first focused on pregnant mothers, allowing them, and women throughout the continent, to see and learn about their babies in the womb. He said that other achievements, particularly in education, had been achieved with the help of partners, such as Microsoft.
He said NEPAD and other African partners were striving to ensure the creation and sustainability of the "University for the African Future" -- a competitive and comprehensive university, without borders and requiring no travel, which would provide access to a full Western curriculum, by satellite and Internet transmission. In that way, African students could "borrow" the highways of information and not merely remain on the shoulders of the road. Everyone must move at the same speed -- the speed of the electron -- or the speed of light. Everyone must have access to the same opportunities.
He said that partnerships must provide equal opportunities to all countries, for all men and all women. He urged global actors to first look at the widespread gaps in the availability of computers. He finally appealed to all interested partners, donors, scientists and educators to work towards providing all nations with a "common scientific laboratory" for the benefit of all.
IVAN SIMONOVIC (Croatia), President of the Economic and Social Council, said ICT was not merely about the progress of information technologies. It was about structural changes happening in society as a result of such progress and, most importantly, its impact on people. Regardless of where or how they lived, due to globalization they were influenced by the information society.
He said the impact of ICT on jobs, health, education, commerce and much more should be beneficial to everyone. ICT was a tremendously powerful tool for helping to advance the development goals of the Millennium Declaration and international conferences in overcoming development disparities. That potential must be put to better use.
The Council had, in the year 2000, adopted a major ministerial declaration on the role of ICT in development, he said. It had stressed that information and communication technologies could play an important role in accelerating growth, promoting sustainable development and eradicating poverty in developing countries and those with economies in transition, as well as to facilitate their integration into the global economy.
He said that the establishment of the ICT Task Force enhanced collaboration within the United Nations system, giving impetus to a wealth of collaborative efforts by governments, multilateral institutions, donors, the private sector, civil society and other relevant stakeholders to enhance the developmental impact of ICT. The Task Force was the first time that the Council had launched such a broad-based endeavour in a sustained pursuit of development.
Partnership had been carried to an unprecedented level at the International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, he said. The World Summit for Sustainable Development would provide a powerful new platform for launching partnership efforts to achieve more balanced development, where ICT should be given an important role. The World Summit for Information Society in 2003 and 2005 would be a major opportunity to discuss further actions needed to bridge the digital divide and to use the full potential of ICT to achieve the Millennium Goals.
YOSHIO UTSUMI, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), said while ICT initiatives in many regions were making the notion of a "global village" a reality, many of the world's inhabitants were being excluded from the digital and information revolution. That marginalization affected a wide range of activities, from simple activities like making a telephone call to accessing the Internet. Often, even the simplest services were prohibited by high cost. Of course, people could not live on information alone, but it had become quite obvious that the business of information now made a large part of gross domestic product (GDP).
With that in mind, it was necessary to build up information infrastructure and human resources, he continued. Every effort must be made to extend ICT to every citizen of the world, turning the digital divide into a digital opportunity. Further, ICT may help poor countries "leapfrog" development difficulties and move directly into the modern world and global marketplace. Creative individuals and investment in ICT infrastructures were needed. Anyone could work in the information society, but only if the resources and equipment were readily available. Already, there were many success stories, including Israel's software industry, the technological hubs created in Singapore and Hong Kong, and even the small village in Peru that was now able to sell its products to New Yorkers through e-commerce. Still, many countries were falling behind.
World leaders, he continued, must shape the direction of the information society and create a just and equal world. That would not be an easy task, but it was imperative to create equal and competitive markets for all. A "win-win" situation must be created for both developed and developing worlds. The upcoming World Summit on the Information Society must draw up a clear and concise action plan that could be easily implemented by all stakeholders. That meeting must also look beyond technology, for sustainable development was much more than computers and telephones. Such strategies must guarantee the right to participate in the information society and move towards addressing other goals of sustainable development.
JOSÉ MARIA FIGUERES OLSEN, Chairman of the United Nations Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Task Force, noted that the Western countries had emerged from the cold war with a sense of victory and invincibility. However, the real war -- the war for development -- had only just begun.
He said the evolution of globalization at different speeds among different countries and regions was causing a sense of exclusion not only in the developing world, but also in pockets of the developed world. That sense of economic exclusion was also being felt as a lack of political representation in terms of peoples, as well as issues.
Noting the failure of markets to properly address the global commons in a courageous and proactive manner, he said there was a seeming inadequacy in the existing institutional framework to address prevalent difficulties and challenges. It was against that backdrop that the Millennium Development Goals reminded the world of the tasks ahead.
He said that two years along the road towards 2015, there was a need for a new approach, as well as for the mainstreaming of ICT in all development efforts, if those goals were to be achieved. A new approach required a collaborative effort, relevant intergovernmental organizations, good working public institutions, a more engaged private sector with a better sense of global corporate responsibility, and a civil society that not only pointed out the issues to be tackled, but also participated actively in tackling them.
PETER HARDER (Canada), Chairman of the G-8 Digital Opportunity Task Force (DOT Force), briefly illustrated the importance of ICT as a catalyst for social and economic transformation, and how the DOT Force, in partnership with other international organizations, was addressing the tremendous opportunity for global development. In today's environment, basic access to knowledge and information was becoming a prerequisite for modern human development. In that context, ICTs were increasingly recognized as much more than a key economic sector. They were seen as a vital tool for economic modernization, as well as a vehicle for social, cultural and civic enrichment.
While there were many real life examples of how ICTs enabled societies to promote sustainable growth, advance social justice and strengthen democratic governance, the notion of using such technologies for development was, unfortunately, still largely under-utilized. He said the widening digital gap between rich and poor and unequal access to ICTs had produced uneven levels of participation in the networked economy and society. Literally billions of people could be left outside the global connected world.
The DOT Force, he continued, had been mandated to identify concrete ways to bridge the digital divide between industrialized and developing countries and to ensure developing countries could participate in the global information society. At the Genoa Summit last July, the G-8 leaders encouraged stakeholders to build on successful cooperation efforts and to develop concrete initiatives to deliver on each of the elements in the Genoa Plan of Action, including in key areas such as national e-strategies, access and connectivity, human capacity, entrepreneurship and ICT for health.
He said the "e-strategies" implementation team was considered a cornerstone of the Plan of Action. Among the initiatives being developed by the team was an International e-Development Resource Network that would provide regulatory, policy and strategy expertise to developing country policy makers in areas such as e-government, telecommunications policy and regulation, and Internet governance. Other initiatives included a Public Access Telecentre Help Desk, which facilitated sharing knowledge between community-oriented non-profit telecentres in the South, and an Open Knowledge Network which promoted sharing knowledge in different languages at local, regional and international access points.
He said that the DOT Force would continue to work to mobilize political commitment to mainstream ICT in development assistance programmes, promote policy coherence among international initiatives and act as a catalyst for pulling together resources on key international initiatives. The Force's momentum would also be maintained through the formation of an informal DOT Force Implementation Network, which would be used to share information and maximize cooperation among its implementation teams.
Speaking further in his national capacity on Canada's efforts to address ICT issues, he said the digital divide was a multi-faceted phenomenon. It was a divide between individuals, between men and women, a divide between businesses, a divide between regions -- particularly rural and urban areas -- and a serious divide between countries. Aware of all that, the Government was working on a programme of connectivity to make Canada the most "connected" country in the world. The goal was to connect all Canadians with each other, regardless of location, status or level of education.
He said Canada also aimed to set up a programme that would facilitate e-commerce with developing countries. Canada would continue to be in the forefront of efforts to ensue that the benefits of the information revolution were made available for all. Canada was also aware that sustainable public and private partnerships were essential to its efforts to promote connectivity and technological access and advancement at the heart of all development issues. Public-private partners must focus on infrastructure, use and content to ensure digital opportunities for all. Canada's commitment to promoting digital opportunities was truly global and the Government was actively building an international strategy and action plan, with the help of civil society and regional organizations.
RUDOLF ROMER, Vice-Minister for Science and Technology of Venezuela, spoke on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China. He reaffirmed the Declaration of the South Summit held in Havana from 10 to 14 April 2000, recalling the concern expressed over the disparity between the capacity of developed and developing countries to produce and utilize scientific and technical knowledge for social and economic development.
He stressed the priority need to evolve concerted actions at the national, regional and international levels to remove impediments related to lack of infrastructure, local content training, capacity-building, investment, connectivity, modern technology and an appropriate framework, including further development and implementation of the concepts of e-government and e-commerce.
ICT must be considered in the broader context of the overall priorities and socio-economic structures of developing countries, he emphasized. International actions must be geared towards facilitating affordable access to new technologies on favourable terms, improved market access for exports from the South and enhanced capital and investment flows to developing countries on a sustainable and stable basis.
He called on multilateral development institutions and developed countries to encourage and strengthen ICT-related applications and local industry in developing countries. The transfer of technology should be suited to the particular needs of developing countries and their development policies, including permanent, non-formal and distance education, training of educators, creation of local content, e-commerce, tele-medicine, promotion of access to ICT and creation of better opportunities. Under the current, circumstances, he said, the developing world was exposed to technological dependence, monopolistic pricing of technology and knowledge products and services and to the application of inappropriate technological solutions to their unique set of problems.
Speaking in his national capacity, he said Venezuela had invested in developing Internet use with support from the national and international private sector. Nevertheless, beyond the digital divide was an even wider one, encompassing gaps in education, health and other related areas. There should be a joint effort by all countries to achieve democratization in the access to knowledge.
HADI NEJAD HOSSEINIAN (Iran) said the Assembly should work to elaborate a universal approach to all the ICT issues of concern to developing countries. The current meeting was particularly important in light of the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society. Iran, like many other developing countries, considered ICT the key to its development. What was at issue was the role of the United Nations. The practical question was how to strengthen the development role of the United Nations and enhance its development strategies through the transfer of information and new information technologies.
He said Iran was very much concerned that the resources available to the United Nations to assist developing countries in designing strategies for bridging the digital divide with the West were simply inadequate. In light of the outcome of the recent Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development, it was now time to move from principles to concrete action and translate the positive spirit of Monterrey into a strategy that would ensure equal access to ICT for development. All actors must aim to fulfil the commitments made there.
The international community must focus on the transfer of knowledge and technology, as well as building infrastructures that would aid the integration of developing countries into the modern information society. Ameliorating or ending the technological marginalization of developing countries would take concerted action towards the transfer of information, supported by proper scientific, legal and economic frameworks. In creating broad access to new technological networks, privacy needed to be protected, but equally important was the protection of cultural diversity and promoting tolerance and respect for others. As e-commerce was a new and still developing arena, efforts should first be made to remove existing trade-related obstacles.
On partnerships, he said Iran attached great importance to the participation of stakeholders, particularly the private sector, in meeting the relevant goals of the United Nations. Iran stood ready to work with all interested partners, but cautioned that any actual progress on forging broad efforts to ensure access to ICT should be discussed and agreed by relevant intergovernmental bodies and agreed by all. Iran stood ready to contribute to collective intergovernmental efforts to evolve a universal strategy towards ICT for development for all.
DAVID GROSS, Deputy Assistant Secretary and Coordinator for International Communication and Information Policy of the United States, said access to information technologies had been increasing dramatically around the world, especially in developing countries. The number of Internet users in those countries was now approaching 20 per cent of all users around the world. Much of that growth was because people were obtaining new and better telecommunication services at much lower prices.
Noting the persistence of the gap between developed and developing countries, he said political and economic reforms were crucial if all countries were to seize the benefits of ICT. He pointed out that the emergence of a global consensus around four fundamental principles formed the link between ICT and development: liberalization and competition; commitment to the rule of law; private sector-led innovation; and human capacity-building.
He said the commitment to liberalization and competition in the ICT sector opened the door to productivity gains and sustainable wealth creation through increased private sector investment. The private sector clearly had the flexibility and resources to offer innovative solutions to the unique problems facing developing countries. Governments should seek opportunities for private sector partnerships, to make available the benefits of those new technologies.
Investment funds would only flow into those economies that established administrative and commercial institutions based on predictable and transparent rules, especially good governance, he said. Both domestic and international companies required assurances that regulations were transparent and fair, that contracts would be enforced and that there was a sound legal basis for commercial investment.
Emphasizing that investment was broader than simple capital flows, he said ICT training and educational initiatives were the cornerstone of expanded access and usage of information-based technologies. There were numerous local, regional and global training initiatives where users and engineers were taught to create, operate and maintain complex communications systems. The United States Telecommunications and Training Institute had provided tuition-free management, policy and technical training for more than 6,000 talented professionals from around the developing world, he said.
MA SONGDE, Vice Minister, Ministry of Information and Technology of China, said the benefits of ICT were undeniable. Indeed, in many places e-commerce had revolutionized business and trade strategies and e-government initiatives were helping serve the public with greater efficiency. Still, many developing countries faced ever-greater challenges in addressing the digital divide. There were myriad deep-rooted socio-economic reasons for the widening technological gap. Those were exacerbated by the fact that there were very few developed countries with powerful technologies that were setting the standards and norms in the field of ICT. Most developing countries, therefore, were in danger of being marginalized as their resources were strained in the effort to keep up. That negatively affected education, scientific study and even health care.
International cooperation was the optimal approach to bridging the digital divide. It was imperative to combine the market potential of the developing countries with the technological advances of the developed world. That would not only benefit the developing countries, but open up more markets for the developed countries, as well. Developed countries should also work towards promoting South-South cooperation.
China was actively carrying out efforts to enhance its digital readiness. An Asian regional network of the ICT Task Force had been established to promote the implementation of the Task Force's action plan. Although the technological revolution had provided some with access to services "at the speed of light", formidable economic and social obstacles forced billions of people to live in the dark. The telephone had been invented a century ago, but one third of the world's population had never placed a phone call. The Internet had been in use for more than a decade, but only 10 per cent of the world's population had access to that important tool. With those sobering facts in mind, the international community must work to eliminate all development divides -- knowledge, technological and digital.
KENSHIRO MATSUNAMI, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Japan, noted that the development of ICT was said to have brought about the most important structural transformation in the world since the Industrial Revolution. ICT, which had come to be called the "IT revolution", enabled countries to leapfrog over earlier stages of development. In reality, however, it was not easy for developing countries to reap the full benefits of ICT.
There was a danger that developing countries would not fully participate in the international information community and economy because they were unable to keep up with the rapidly accelerating innovations made in ICT, he said. That was especially true when such countries could not meet the conditions of basic economic and social infrastructure, such as electricity, telecommunications and education. The digital divide could thus result in a further widening of the economic gap between industrialized and developing countries.
He said that during the G-8 Kyushu Okinawa Summit in 2000, his country had announced that it would prepare a comprehensive cooperation package to bridge the digital divide with public funding. Japan had also implemented cooperation projects amounting to $2.2 billion, emphasizing cooperation with international organizations, including contributions to ICT funds of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank. In addition, Japan had proposed the Asia Broadband Programme aimed at establishing clear goals for the expeditious creation of a next-generation broadband Internet environment through regional cooperation in Asia.
The private sector had taken the lead in developing and disseminating ICT, he said. It was, therefore, important to make full use of private sector energy in order to use ICT effectively for development. For that purpose, and as a precondition for international cooperation, developing countries themselves must establish an environment congenial to private sector activities, in order to attract foreign investment, demonstrate ownership and make efforts to improve the environment for business and investment.
ABDALLAH BAALI (Algeria) said it was time to renew international consensus towards the implementation of the principles of the Millennium Declaration. The immense potential of ICT was not equitably beneficial for all. There was an urgent need to identify and eliminate obstacles that were hampering the access of developing countries to technology. The current meeting should draw up a universal plan to address the issue, as inequalities were emerging daily, which affected training, education and overall development in developing countries.
It was clear, he continued, that ICT was defining economic growth and development. Still, there were literally hundreds of millions of people that had been denied any advantages provided by the technological revolution. Developing countries now had to cope with technological dependency, or were forced to use those technologies that were forced upon them, but which might not effectively address their developmental needs. Such countries must be must be assisted in obtaining the appropriate level of knowledge and scientific skill to participate in the modern information society.
The international community must explore opportunities for the spread of ICT in sectors such as health and social welfare, where they could be put to immediate use. Global actors must also work to ensure the digital inclusion of socially underdeveloped countries. The United Nations had a role to play as a decisive catalyst for technology and information transfer, particularly in promoting the forming of partnerships.
YANG SEUNG-TAIK, Minister of Information and Communication of the Republic of Korea, said his country had the most advanced wired and wireless information and communication infrastructure in the world and had risen as the global leader in ICT. Its fixed-line telephone penetration rate currently stood at more than 50 per cent. Since then, 63 per cent of the population of 30 million people subscribed to the CDMA mobile service.
He said his country's success did not lie solely in what it had achieved in a short time, but in providing fertile soil where the seeds of the knowledge-based industry could be sown. In fact, the ICT industry had emerged as the main pillar of the Republic of Korea's economy, accounting for 13 per cent of the GDP and 25 per cent of the total export volume.
In achieving such success, the country had enacted the Basic Law on Informatization Promotion in 1995, he said. In 1996, it had established the Informatization Promotion Fund and in 1997, the Republic of Korea had formed the first inter-ministerial Informatization Strategy Council chaired by President Kim Dae-jung.
Another factor in his country's ICT success was the introduction of competition in the telecommunication market, he said. Due to that competitive environment, the service providers had had little choice but to maintain a low telecommunication tariff. And because the low tariff attracted an enormous number of subscribers, and created still more demand, a virtuous cycle had been created in the broadband Internet service.
C. MAHENDRAN CHITHAMBARANATHAN (Sri Lanka) said it was necessary to highlight the ways in which the international community could address the sad reality that the economies, communities and peoples throughout the world had been denied access to the benefits of the information and technological revolution. He recalled the statement made earlier by the General Assembly President, which noted that the Assembly's current meeting should mark the beginning of broad and serious universal re-commitment to the goal of ensuring access to ICT for development.
As the digital divide continued to deepen, it was essential, he continued, that the people of poor cities and villages in the South and the people living in the cities of the industrialized North spoke the same language. He said it was also time for large businesses such as IBM and Microsoft, to work with high-level ministries in smaller countries, as well as international non-governmental organizations, to ensure access to ICT.
INOCENCIO ARIAS (Spain), on behalf of the European Union, said the birth of the information society, which was causing a transcendental change in the world's way of life, would be a new civilization, with characteristics and consequences similar to the Industrial Revolution. ICT had been the motor for the growth of the world economy since the beginning of the 1970s, and probably one of the most powerful tools of globalization.
ICT was creating a new economy in which the greatest challenge would be to make accessible to 4 billion people the great benefits of the information revolution, he said. The digital darkness in which two thirds of humanity lived could not be permitted to continue. Political leadership and commitment was needed at the highest possible level in the developing countries to fight with determination against "information poverty".
He said the World Summit on the Information Society must discuss, among others, the design of policies and regulatory frameworks to promote the growth of the ICT sector; the potential of ICT applications in making governments more transparent and accountable; and the promotion of access to information and knowledge. One of the most important priorities of the European Union was the adoption of policies to strengthen a European society of information, which had ended in the adoption of a concrete initiative known as "E-Europe". The goal of that initiative was to bring information closer to citizens, taking their cultural diversity into account.
As ICT provided new space for free-speech communication and inter-cultural dialogue, it could contribute to the expression of cultural diversity and language, he said. ICT would become a cross-cutting theme in all European Union development programmes. Significant resources were already available in the LIS Programme for Latin America, IT&C for Asia and EUMEDIS for the Mediterranean countries. A programme for the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries was in its conceptual phase.
MIQUEL ALVAREZ MARFANY, Minister of Economics of Andorra, said the international community should focus on ways of strengthening structures that were crucial for technical development. The first step would be to support national efforts aimed at establishing the necessary human and physical infrastructure for ICT. The private sector could play a significant role, especially in capacity-building, by encouraging research and development. A second step would be to strengthen international cooperation in the area of research -- a valuable tool in providing transfer of and access to informational technology.
In general terms, he continued, ICT had been identified as the key determinate for creating a global knowledge-based economy, generating growth, employment and wealth. In more concrete terms, ICT assisted countries to better develop national policies and enhance data-collection programmes and the generation of indexes, which could lead to ensuring broader sustainable development for all. Public-private partnerships within countries, as well as with United Nations agencies, could also play a unique role in foreign development.
Those partnerships, he went on, could be used to promote universal access to ICT, especially for youth, the elderly or disabled. There was also a need to develop and promote the use of ICT that was user-friendly and inexpensive. By example, he highlighted a project initiated by his Government and the Commission for the Information Society "United Nations Mobile". The United Nations Mobile was a new communications channel based on personal digital assistant technology, which could act as an information bridge between Members of the United Nations community and users around the world. It would allow permanent missions to publish information on the Internet very easily.
ALEXANDRU NICULESCU (Romania) said he was convinced that the United Nations should play a leadership role in efforts to expand the development impact of ICT. He hoped the current meeting would study the digital divide in the context of globalization and the development process, and identify ways to promote coherence between various regional and international ICT initiatives.
In Romania, he said, a National Strategy for the Information Society Implementation had been developed through the broad cooperative efforts of civil actors, the business community and public administrators. In 2001, the ICT Promotion Group was set up. That group was composed of e-ministries and had been mandated to facilitate and integrate all e-development initiatives for the benefit of Romanian citizens, as well as the business community. He added that an IT legislation package had been elaborated in parallel to oversee the adoption of specific laws, including laws on electronic signature, e-commerce, e-procurement and on protection of individuals with regard to processing personal information.
He said that expansion of Internet usage in Romania made e-governance possible and necessary. To that end, the concept of Government activity had to be re-envisioned. The Government was committed to ICT and e-initiatives, in order to better fulfil its obligations, particularly in areas of education, social protection, the promotion of economic growth and ensuring free access to competitive markets. Providing such services on-line would encourage better integration of ICT in and among local communities and boost infrastructure development, as well. Two such projects under way were on-line tax payment and e-procurement, to ensure transparency and efficiency in the public procurement process.
In preparation for the up-coming World Summit on the Information Society, a pan-European regional ministerial conference would be held in Bucharest for 7 to 9 November. That conference, which would feature thematic debates and partnership events, was designed to conduct a regional assessment and establish a platform for dialogue among major stakeholders. It will also aim to create a vision for a knowledge-based society and identify key initiatives and networks in the region, to be presented at the Summit.
ASHFAQ MAHMOOD, Secretary, Information Technology and Telecommunications, of Pakistan, said that it was unreasonable to expect poor people, struggling to earn a living, to invest in computers. It would be equally naïve to think that the governments of developing countries would have the resources to spend towards telecommunication infrastructure. Therefore, it was necessary for multilateral and bilateral donors and large entrepreneurs to take the lead in meeting the cost of expansion and operation of ICT infrastructure.
It would be desirable, he said, for a large ICT fund to be created by business, entrepreneurs, technology companies and donors to help provide the means for the poor to access ICT. Such investment could be viewed as a long-term investment to open new markets. For those who wanted to act independently of a common fund, appropriate tax incentives or insurance schemes could be devised, whereby developed countries could provide necessary funding to developing countries. His Government was fully committed to promoting ICT as a vehicle for development. An aggressive human resources development programme had been launched, bandwidth prices had been reduced and Internet access had been provided to over 700 towns.
Mr. VILLANUEVA (Peru) said one of the most disturbing aspects of globalization was the concentration of capacities and resources in a minority of the world's countries. The richest countries accounted for almost 80 per cent of all Internet users and the bandwidth of Seoul (Republic of Korea) alone was equivalent to that of all Latin America.
He said the issue of the new information technologies should not be merely a matter of facilitating access to the Internet for the developing countries. There was also a question of taking into account and adapting to the specific realities of each developing country. Stressing the importance of education, he said Peru had connected more than 100 rural and urban schools with libraries through video-conferencing.
Emphasizing the need to make positive use of ICT, he said it must be used to promote transparent government systems. Peru also welcomed the establishment of the ICT Task Force. It must help strengthen human resources, provide jobs, disseminate technologies in small and medium-sized companies and provide sources of finance. He hoped that would lead to the adoption of measures to reduce the digital divide.
JAMAL NASSIR AL-BADER (Qatar) said the modern information and technological revolution was a wonderful thing, particularly if it was used to portray human realities and to promote understanding among all the peoples of the world. However, the huge potential of ICT was not adequately reflected in the development policies of all countries. The United Nations would play a unique role in broad efforts to reverse the trend of technological marginalization. He added that the Organization and its agencies and funds would also benefit from ensuring equitable access to ICT, since new technologies would certainly raise levels of awareness about the important work the United Nations had undertaken in such areas as poverty eradication.
Most importantly, he continued, the major efforts to increase access to ICT should use new models and make full use of new inventions to enhance the lives of people at the community level. Still, all should be mindful that, while ITC was not a panacea, it was capable of helping address many development challenges that smaller countries faced.
He said that the preparatory process for the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society was proceeding apace. The outcomes of the various regional meetings had been particularly positive. The Arab regional meeting had been held earlier this month and strategies were discussed on ways to ensure that the Summit took regional concerns into account. He said the world was in the grip of an unpredictable revolution, which should, above all, be used in the interest of humanity. ICT had become a huge money-making business, and he urged the large companies and institutions that produced and marketed ICT equipment to keep in mind the unique needs of the millions of people living in smaller countries, particularly the least developed countries.
VINCI NIEL CLODUMAR (Nauru), on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said the theme of ICT for every islander had been chosen for all relevant recent events held in the region. For small island States, dispersed over vast ocean distances, it was essential to connect communities with the rest of the world. Otherwise, their full participation in the global economy would not be possible.
He said that among the success stories experienced in the region were the use of ICT in distance education, tele-medicine and the use of satellite technology. Common regional ICT policy was intended to leverage collective expertise and make the most of local resources, in line with the provisions of the Millennium Declaration.
HASMY AGAM (Malaysia) said ICT technology had revolutionized the world, and it was encouraging to note that nearly 400 million people were connected in cyberspace. It was disheartening, however, to learn that only 5 per cent of those people lived in developing countries. With that in mind, the international community must seriously address the digital divide, if it was serious about meeting the goals set in the Millennium Declaration. The challenge was to technologically empower over 4 billion marginalized people who were eager to participate in the benefits provided by advances in ICT.
He said genuine international cooperation was essential to ensure real, tangible and sustained transfer of knowledge and new information technologies to developing countries. Indeed, information was a powerful tool, which could enrich and empower all of humanity. Nations now had to adapt to the evolution of the information sector, in order to progress. With that in mind, since the early 1990s, Malaysia had embarked on a quest to become a "Knowledge Society". The National Information Technology Council was established in 1994 with the vision of creating an information-rich society, through enhancing the development and use of ICT as a key strategic element towards national development.
He said while it was important for Malaysia to bridge the information gap with other countries, it was equally necessary to enhance relevant efforts between and among its own local communities. Internet use in Malaysia had risen from 1.6 million in 1998 to 6.5 million in 2001. By next year, Malaysia expected some 10 million Internet users. Still, the Government had not lost sight of ensuring that levels of society under particular threat of marginalization -- senior citizens, youth, women, disabled and geographically isolated communities -- were allowed to harness emerging technological opportunities. He added that those communities made up nearly half of Malaysian society.
In March, together with UNDP and Coca-Cola, Malaysia had launched "e-learning for life", a pilot project to help local communities bridge the digital divide by bringing e-learning opportunities and ICT training resources to students and teachers. That project stood as an example of how the United Nations and the private sector could support national efforts to build a knowledge-based society. He added that Malaysia had been chosen to host the secretariat of the Global Knowledge Partnership, a growing public-private partnership dedicated to promoting information and knowledge for development. Through the partnership, Malaysia hoped to promote South-South cooperation, as well as North-South cooperation, in bridging the global technological divide and nurturing the global information society.
ALAR EHANDI (Estonia), Chairman of the Look@World foundation, an initiative of major private sector companies in his country, including banks, telecoms and IT companies, said the Foundation's purpose was to build an information society in Estonia by augmenting the State's annual IT budget by an additional 25 to 30 per cent using private sector funds. The Estonian experience could benefit other developing countries. ICT and the information society would soon be priorities for them, if they weren't already, since access to information led to knowledge, and that would be the major production and competitiveness factor in the future.
Much depends on leadership at both the political and business levels, he said. In his country, grass-roots movements had escalated quickly. Their aims had rapidly become part of official policy involving all stakeholders, and in that way had spread back throughout society. Politicians had come to understand that the most realist means of reducing governmental overhead was through ICT solutions. Further, a lack of resources was not always bad. In Estonia, the situation had promoted cooperation between the public and private sector. It had also kept systems manageable. Everything was outsourced, except for decision-making.
Estonia had also found value from integrating data and providing some services on-line, he said. Various governmental bodies had participated in such activities with each other. The central government had participated with local governments and with the private sector in such areas as health care and education. Providing access and training had cut down on the digital divide. Liberalizing the telecommunications market had speeded progress. Finally, he said, technology was easy; there were plenty of professionals who knew all about it. Organizational structure and habits were the bottleneck. Implementing e-services and involving technology were useless without changes in organizational structure and in the process of offering services. Perhaps even laws needed changing.
ANDREY KOROTKOV, First Deputy Minister for Communication and Information of the Russian Federation, stressed that the shared task was to identify and resolve challenges in a timely manner. Among those challenges was the vulnerability of a net-connected community, particularly in the war against terrorism. However, the need for information security could not be used as a pretext for a homogenization of culture.
He said that last January, his Government had adopted a programme called Electronic Russia, which would last from 2000 to 2010. On 29 April in Geneva, a funding conference had been held for ICT networks for Europe and Central Asia under the auspices of the United Nations. In the twenty-first century, the key issues of ICT would be linked to human health. Information technology must, therefore, be put to the service of health care. A second key aspect would be programmes related to education and remote learning. It was also important to preserve a heritage encompassing cultural and religious variety.
M. PATRICIA DURRANT (Jamaica) suggested that the meeting focus particularly on policies for enabling citizens to access information generally needed by the public. That must be done by ensuring that: there were digital networks in each country or region; there was access to the Internet as a means of distributing and sharing information; the bandwidth used was adequate; and there were local centres where the public could access the Internet. While advances had been made in many developing countries to increase public access to information via ICT, there was still the need for extending the pilot projects to the wider population. Also, reliable, low-cost access influenced the degree to which ICT could be used by the population.
Conscious of the major role of information in national development, Jamaica had recently passed the Access to Information Act 2002, intended to reinforce and give further effect to the principles of governmental accountability, transparency and public participation in decision-making, she said. To fully implement that Act, Jamaica would need to expand the applications of electronic government; enable the development of related policies, human and technical resources and infrastructure; and exploit ICT to enable citizens to have full access to official information. Implementation of that Act, and other development initiatives, was greatly facilitated by the strategic use of ICT at national, regional and international levels.
She added that ICT must not be seen as an isolated instrument, but rather as a key element in accelerating growth, raising competitiveness, promoting sustainable development, eradicating poverty, and facilitating the effective integration of all countries into the global economy.
ORLANDO JORGE MERA, President of the Institute of Telecommunications of the Dominican Republic, said for 72 years, telecommunications in his country had been privatized. It had been, therefore, possible for the country's five telecommunications corporations to provide the people with one of the most advanced communications networks in all Latin America. The liberalized nature of telecommunications in the Dominican Republic was fostered by a Government that continued to work to ensure that all its citizens could participate in the new information society.
The country was working steadily to meet the challenges of the present and future, he continued. That was why the education system had been marked for ICT improvements. The Government aimed to ensure that nearly 2 million students had access to the information highway. Projects had been carried out in tele-education and tele-medicine, with the goal of contributing to education, as well as the health sector. Still, there was only one computer for every 350 students.
The right to knowledge was inherent to all citizens, exclusion only contributed to despair, he continued. What the people of developing countries needed was for new technologies to reach them at an affordable cost and in an equitable manner. He hoped that the current Assembly meeting and the upcoming 2003 Information Summit would identify concrete policies and strategies to reduce the digital divide. The birth of the information society was one of the major challenges of the 21st century. With that in mind, the international community must strengthen global education systems and elaborate clear rules and regulations on the use of ICT, so that a fair and equitable information society could be ensured.
BOB JALANG'O (Kenya), endorsing the Group of 77 statement, said the real situation in sub-Saharan Africa confirmed the wide gap of the digital divide, which excluded more than 4 billion people from the benefits of ICT.
Calling for a bridging of the North-South, as well as South-South, digital divide, he said Kenya was preparing to strategically position itself for the digital international economy, including by co-opting key stakeholders and forming partnerships with the private sector, particularly in the context of its poverty-reduction policy. The primary impetus must come from the private sector, with the government acting as a facilitator. The information technology industry was one of the fastest growing sectors in Kenya. The country planned to be at the forefront in Africa in promoting an "e-enabled society". As the next generation of ICT unfolded, rural communities faced particular challenges, since they had little bargaining power.
He said that among the most glaring examples of failure by developed countries was their commitment made at the 1996 Rome World Food Summit to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015. As African leaders had declared at last week's World Food Summit, Africa was not asking for arms, but for a level playing field, including fair access to markets. As the preparatory process for the World Summit on the Information Society began in July, Kenya appealed for a reopening of the gates for equitable access to ICT.
JARGALSAIKHANY ENKHSAIKHAN (Mongolia) said the present meeting would promote coherence and synergies between regional and international ICT components. It could also contribute to the 2003 ICT Summit, which would form a common vision by addressing the broad-ranging issues behind the societal transformation of the information society. Other important ICT initiatives were under way, including the task forces set up by the G-8. The United Nations ICT Task Force aimed to build bridges for the two thirds of the world population that had little or no access to the benefits of the digital revolution. It was a new body. Expecting concrete results at such an early stage would be premature.
Developing the ICT sector and mainstreaming ICT into national policies was a priority for his country, he continued. The process was considered an important factor in economic, social and human development. A medium-term strategy had been developed to cover the period up to 2010. The main objectives were: to define a policy and legal framework; develop infrastructure; build human capacity; and support business and the private sector. A National ICT Committee had been established involving all stakeholders. As a result of working with international organizations within the framework, 91.3 per cent of the entire interurban network had been automated, transmission and switching facilities had been upgraded by modern digital technologies and the capacity of fixed telephone users had increased by 15 per cent.
However, he said, Mongolia was a nation with a vast territory, low population density and weak infrastructure. It needed financial and technological assistance to reach the goals of the medium-term strategy. It was ready to share its experience with others.
LUIS GALLAGOS CHIRIBOGA (Ecuador) said while harnessing the information revolution was indeed a challenge for the international community, it was as well one of the greatest opportunities for poor countries to overcome the barriers of underdevelopment and poverty. Information was vital to achieve progress and, today, it was at the world's disposal. The President of Ecuador had affirmed the need to spread the use of ICT to all corners of the globe. Recognizing that today, illiteracy was not just the inability to read or write, but the inability to use computers, Ecuador had set itself on a path to ensure its people the broadest access possible to new ICT advances.
He said that by ensuring equitable access to ICT, as well as promoting information exchange, the international community would be able to adequately address many of the problems facing the world today, perhaps even the eradication of poverty, one of the greatest violations of human rights. While assistance from international partners and donors was critical, he was certain that people in small countries, with their traditional cultures and rich indigenous histories, could, in spite of poverty and limitations imposed by hegemonic regimes, reach the levels of well-being to which they were entitled.
The only way to do that, he continued, was to take advantage of new technologies. He trusted humanity to make the supreme effort to ensure the vision of the future -- one of an integrated information and knowledge-based society -- was not one of economic domination, but one of a future for all. Only the United Nations could put a "human face" on the technological revolution. The Organization and its agencies and funds must be renovated and expanded. The United Nations must not lag behind, but must be a leader in the new global information society. It was imperative to ensure that the Organization be able to meet the mandate of the Charter and make the dream of a better future come true.
ARNE BIRGER HONNINGSTAD (Norway) said while it was true that developing countries were in need of both foreign investment and development assistance in order to address broad technological disparities, it was important to note that one of the rallying cries last summer during the demonstrations at the G-8 Summit had been "the hungry can't eat computers". That slogan highlighted the reality that poverty, disease and illiteracy were the fundamental problems faced by developing countries.
Computers, he continued, were just tools that could help combat those serious scourges. Still, such tools required advanced skills and advanced infrastructures. But, with the right conditions and prerequisites in place, computers and other ICT equipment were very powerful tools that could help solve some of the basic problems of development. The main focus, therefore, was the continuing fight against poverty, and by integrating ICT into development strategies and addressing the digital divide, the international community would be able to undertake that task more effectively.
However, poverty reduction was not necessarily about specifically targeting the poor. It would equally require the creation of employment opportunities and an economic surplus that could be redistributed. ICT had the potential to create jobs, improve access to basic services and increase the basic sharing of information between people living in different parts of developing countries. But, access to technology was still limited in many developing countries, mainly due to the high cost of hardware and Internet access. That was exacerbated by a scarcity of functioning power lines and a lack of skilled telecommunication workers in many regions. Governments aided by donors needed to finance the infrastructure and provide seed money and loans for information hubs.
Turning briefly to Norway's development policies for supporting ICT in combating poverty, he said ICT should be considered a primary tool in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Norway had initiated and participated in, among other things, pilot studies regarding the use of ICT in development programmes in Sri Lanka and the United Republic of Tanzania. Integrating ICT in its development programmes in close cooperation with partners would continue to be a high priority for Norway.
SRGJAN KERIM (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) said at the national level, ICT played an indispensable role in creating a global knowledge-based economy, accelerating growth, increasing competitiveness, promoting sustainable development and ultimately, eradicating poverty. ICT offered a huge opportunity for marginalized regions to connect to the world economy, particularly by eliminating the obstacles caused by geography and distance.
A landlocked country like his own, he continued, surely had a comparative advantage in ICT-based service exports -- software, data transcription, telemarketing -- as against export oriented manufactures. As a newly emerging democracy, Macedonia had opted for a development strategy based upon an advanced communications infrastructure. Such an infrastructure would provide a solid basis on which various IT services could be built. Another goal for his country was to build Web-based information systems in areas such as e-government, e-commerce, e-banking, and distance education and health care.
He said the President had launched an initiative to ensure an "e-Macedonia for all", which would enforce various activities that would further the integration of the country into the modern informational society, and particularly in the networked economy. The expert committee charged with monitoring implementation of that initiative had recently set out recommendations for fast-tracking the development of Macedonia's information and digital economy as a national priority. Those recommendations included a proposal for the development of a national agency for information technology that would prepare relevant legislation and a national strategy for standardizing various e-related schemes, particularly in the areas of e-commerce, banking and use of electronic data.
He went on to say that the importance of ICT within the process of globalization could not be overemphasized. Indeed, globalization had made the task of ensuring sustainable development for all more complex than ever before. It was, therefore, necessary to ensure coherence in the Monterrey Consensus and the plan of action that would emerge from the upcoming World Summit for Sustainable Development, to be held in South Africa in August.
FELIPE PAOLILLO (Uruguay), endorsing the Group of 77 statement, said the spread of ICT posed a two-fold challenge for developing countries. On one hand, they had limited access to those technologies, which had created a digital divide at the international level that threatened to accentuate even further their marginalization. On the other hand, an internal digital divide was growing at both the social and productive levels, due to differences in access to the new technologies by the different social sectors within developing countries.
He said each State, therefore, had a responsibility to integrate national programmes into their national development strategies, aimed at ensuring that the new information technologies contributed to the achievement of development goals by mainstreaming them in educational, scientific, health, economic and political systems. They also had a responsibility to establish transparent legal and regulatory frameworks and to introduce appropriate policies that would enable those sectors with the least resources to access the new technologies.
Some Latin America and Caribbean governments had launched initiatives to provide Internet access to the lowest-income sectors through schools and community centres, he said. They had agreed in June 2000 that by 2005, they would be full members of the information society. Uruguay had established "Uruguay en Red" (Uruguay on the Net) aimed at improving business competitiveness, efficiency, public sector transparency and connectivity. It was currently being tested successfully in other Latin American and Caribbean countries.
ABDUL MEJID HUSSEIN (Ethiopia) said it was widely recognized that ICT played an important role in the development efforts of developing countries. He recalled two previous technological revolutions, the industrial revolution and the green revolution in agriculture. The concentration of those technologies in the developed world had caused an enormous gap between developed and developing countries. Since ICT technology also remained highly concentrated in the developed economies, the digital divide was adding to the already enormous gap. Bridging the gap was a goal for the international community.
ICT could play an important role in integrating developing countries into the global economy if impediments were overcome, he continued. First, environments conducive to investment needed to be created. Also, some familiar features of developing countries needed to be addressed, including the lack of infrastructure, capacity, connectivity and education. In partnership with the United Nations system, Ethiopia had launched an ICT capacity-building programme. Among other activities, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was providing technical assistance in such areas as trade promotion.
He said all stakeholders must be involved in bridging the digital divide, if developing countries were to fully participate in the knowledge-based global economy. Civil society stakeholders were important actors in the process, particularly the private sector. All partnerships should have a strong development dimension.
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