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02 April 2003

Public Invited to Help Build the Information Society

(Principles for world summit being drafted) (630)
By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer


Washington -- The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is
set to convene in Geneva next December and the International
Telecommunications Union (ITU) is asking citizens from around the
world to submit ideas on how to build a well-wired world.

The declaration of principles that will be considered at the upcoming
conference is being drafted between now and the December 10-12 event.
The ITU invites the public to review an early draft of the document
hammered out in a February meeting involving 1500 participants
including 146 government delegations plus representatives from
international agencies, business, media groups and civil society.

"The working documents outline an information society with citizens
and communities at its core, where information and knowledge are
disseminated and utilized by all of humanity for their economic,
social, cultural and political development," according to an ITU press
release. "The information society is seen as inclusive, where all
persons, without distinction of any kind, are empowered to create,
receive, share and utilize information and knowledge, in any media,
regardless of frontiers."

The documents are available for review at
http://www.itu.int/wsis/documents/listing.asp?lang=en&c_event=pci|1&c_type=td|

The ITU will accept citizen comment on the principles until May 31.
The draft will be subject to further revision and negotiation at
preparatory meetings now set for July and September.

Representatives of the U.S. State Department are active players in
this negotiating process, which remains at an early stage. "The
Internet has tremendous capacity to empower citizens by expanding
access to information and encouraging participation in government,"
David Gross, the U.S. coordinator for international communications and
information policy, told a regional preparatory conference held in the
Dominican Republic in January. Setting a U.S. objective for the talks,
Gross said, "The WSIS must affirm the democratic principles of free
flow of information and freedom of expression as key elements of the
information society."

Gross said the United States will urge that WSIS focus on three
priorities -- infrastructure development, network security and human
capacity building, that is, education and computer literacy. "We
believe that the priorities the United States has set for WSIS can
foster a connected, educated and healthy population, secure in its use
of the tools and applications made possible by the ever-changing
information society."

The WSIS goal, according to ITU documents, will be to complete an
agreement on principles for expanding the information society, but
also to draw an action plan to be used as a reference point for
nations where advanced information technologies have just gained a
foothold. The action plan, as drafted, considers such issues as
financing, investment and sustainability of an information
infrastructure; access to information; and the role of governments,
business and civil society in the promotion of information and
communication technologies (ICT).

Suggestions are also under consideration that the WSIS declaration
should include time goals by which certain benchmarks in the
construction of a wired world might be achieved. ITU documents say the
dates being considered in the current draft call for all villages to
be connected by 2010. For educational facilities, the goals under
consideration would strive for connection of all universities by 2005,
secondary schools by 2010 and all primary schools by 2015.

The U.N. General Assembly resolution that called for this world summit
specified a two-phase process with the first 2003 meeting in Geneva
and a second meeting in 2005 in Tunis, Tunisia. The principles of an
information society and the action plan to achieve it are the goals
for the first meeting. The progress made in meeting those goals will
be considered at the Tunis session.

The U.S. State Department maintains an archive of information on WSIS
at http://www.state.gov/e/eb/cip/wsis/

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)