Sunday, June 19, 2005

ITU Launches New Development Initiative to Bridge the Digital Divide

Partnership will be the key to connecting communities
Geneva, 16 June 2005 — The International Telecommunication Union today launched a major new development drive designed to bring access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) to the estimated one billion people worldwide for whom making a simple telephone call remains out of reach.

Called Connect the World, the initiative is a global multi-stakeholder effort established within the context of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to encourage new projects and partnerships to bridge the digital divide. By showcasing development efforts now underway 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% 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, UN agencies and civil society. It has 22 founding partners, including leading corporate players such as Alcatel, Huawei, Intel, Microsoft, KDDI, Telefónica, Infosys and WorldSpace, whose CEOs have all embraced the goals of the initiative.

Partners also include governments and government agencies including Egypt, France, Senegal and the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion (KADO), regional and international organizations including UNESCO, the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the European Commission, the International Telecommunication Satellite Organization, RASCOM and the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (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 & Readiness, and Applications & 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 actively sought in areas not adequately covered to ensure underserved communities get what they need where it’s needed most.

Speaking at a press conference to launch the initiative at UN headquarters in Geneva, ITU Secretary-General Mr 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 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% of the world’s population living in low and lower-middle income countries. But while figures do show a clear improvement over the last ten 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’s 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 underway, 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 Utsumi.

For more information on the Connect the World initiative, including the Connect the World Factsheet, full details of Connect the World partner projects, and a selection of photos of projects and leaders of participating organizations,Click here. href="http://www.itu.int/newsroom/press_releases/2005/07.html">http://www.itu.int/newsroom/press_releases/2005/07.html

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