17 June 2005

ITU Launches New Development Initiative to Bridge Digital Divide

Partnership Will Be Key to Connecting Communities

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 16 June (ITU) — The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) today launched a major new development drive designed to bring access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) to the estimated 1 billion people worldwide for whom making a simple telephone call remains out of reach.

Called Connect the World, the initiative is designed to encourage new projects and partnerships to bridge the digital divide. By showcasing development efforts now under way and by identifying areas where needs are the most pressing, Connect the World will create a critical mass that will generate the momentum needed to connect all communities by 2015. At present, ITU estimates that around 800,000 villages -- or 30 per cent of all villages worldwide -- are still without any kind of connection.

Connect the World places strong emphasis on the importance of partnerships between the public and private sectors, United Nations agencies and civil society. It has 20 founding partners, including leading corporate players such as Alcatel, Huawei, Intel, Microsoft, KDDI, Telefónica, Infosys and WorldSpace, whose Chief Executive Officers have all embraced the goals of the initiative.

Members also include governments and government agencies, including France, Egypt and the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion (KADO), national and international organizations, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the European Commission, the International Telecommunication Satellite Organization, RASCOM and the United Nations Fund for International Partnership (UNFIP), as well as a range of organizations from civil society, including Télécoms sans frontières, the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation and Child Helpline International.

The initiative comprises three key building blocks -- Enabling Environment, Infrastructure and Readiness, and Applications and Services -- which together constitute the primary areas that need to be addressed when developing concrete measures to accelerate ICT development. All Connect the World founding partners have current development projects in one or more of these areas. They will be encouraged to develop new partnerships and initiatives, while additional partners will be sought in areas not adequately covered to ensure underserved communities get what they need where it is needed most.

Speaking at a press conference to launch the initiative at United Nations headquarters in Geneva, ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi spoke of the urgent need to connect those still deprived of ready access to ICTs.

“It is time to stop regarding access to ICTs as a privilege available to the rich few within a country, and the rich few countries in the world”, said Mr. Utsumi. “ICTs now underpin just about every aspect of modern life. They are basic infrastructure, as necessary to economic and social development as postal services, banks, medical centres and schools.”

At present, the 942 million people living in the world’s developed economies enjoy five times better access to fixed and mobile phone services, nine times better access to Internet services, and own 13 times more PCs than the 85 per cent of the world’s population living in low and lower-middle income countries. But while figures do show a clear improvement over the last 10 years in bridging the gap between information “haves” and “have-nots”, they nonetheless fail to paint a true picture for many rural dwellers, whose communities are still often unserved by any form of ICT.

“It is not ICTs that will solve the problem of the digital divide; it is people and especially people working in partnership. So while Connect the World is about harnessing the power of ICTs, it is also about harnessing the power of people working together to connect the unconnected”, said ITU’s Utsumi.

By providing an international platform to showcase the many innovative and successful development initiatives already under way, ITU hopes Connect the World will spur organizations at every level to get actively involved in development. “Every Connect the World partner is currently working to make a real difference. I applaud their efforts, and hope the projects they are showcasing within this initiative will serve to stimulate new partnerships and inspire others to join us and to launch their own development activities”, said Mr. Utsumi.

The initiative is in view of the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, which will meet in Tunis from 16 to 18 November. The Tunis Summit will focus on the implementation of the Plan of Action adopted at the Geneva phase in 2003, which seeks to build an inclusive information society and to promote the use of information and knowledge for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The Summit will also address the issues of Internet governance and of financing efforts to narrow the North-South digital divide.

For more information on the Connect the World initiative, including the Connect the World fact sheet, full details of Connect the World partner projects, and a selection of photos of projects and leaders of participating organizations, please contact Sarah Parkes at the ITU, tel: (41 22) 730 6135, e-mail: Sarah.Parkes@itu.int; or visit web: www.itu.int/partners.

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