Rising to the ICT challenge

At least 800 000 villages—or 30% of the world’s villages—are unconnected to any kind of information and communications technology (ICT), and this requires an investment of about $1-billion to rectify.

This is according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), whose secretary general, Yoshio Utsumi, addressed a press conference at the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, Tunisia, on Tuesday.

Utsumi is also the secretary general of the WSIS.

“In order to get the villages connected, we need $1-billion and we are spending $100-billion on mobile investments every year,” said Utsumi.

He said that to achieve the goal of connecting these villages, only 1% of money spent on mobile investments is required.

“I am very sure in five years, the situation will be different in terms of internet access.”

ITU statistics show that 942-million people in developed economies enjoy four times better access to fixed and cellphones, and eight times better access to internet services. They own 13 times more PCs than the 85% of the world’s population living in developing nations.

He said it is essential that everyone has access to ICT.

“The task is challenging, but we must rise to it if we are to keep the promise of the information society.”

In June, the ITU launched an initiative dubbed “Connect the World” after the realisation that making a simple telephone call was out of reach for at least one billion people.

Partners to this initiative are the governments of Egypt, France and Senegal as well as various private firms, United Nations agencies, the European Commission and regional African satellite-communications organisations.

The Connect the World initiative comprises three key issues—an enabling environment, infrastructure and readiness, and applications and services, which together constitute the primary areas the ITU feels need to be addressed in developing effective measures to stimulate ICT development.

According to the ITU, to qualify for membership all partners must have current ICT development projects in one or more of the above areas.

“Every Connect the World partner is working to make a difference, and it is our hope that the projects they are showcasing will serve to stimulate new partnership and inspire others to join us and launch their own development activities,” said Utsumi.

Recently, South African President Thabo Mbeki said the fact that telecommunications costs in his country were 10 times higher than those in developed countries was unacceptable.

According to the Community Information Network for Southern Africa, South Africa has many projects involving ICT networking, and aims to improve access to ICT in order to share experience, information and generating new ideas collectively.

The ITU has been an important player in the emergence of the information society and is the leading agency organising the WSIS on behalf of the UN.

The WSIS was to be opened on Wednesday by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan under the theme Summit of Solutions.

The summit is held in two phases—the first was in Geneva in 2003.

Ten thousand participants from UN agencies, governments, private sector and civil society—including at least 50 heads of states, 30 of whom hail from Africa—were expected to converge in Tunisia’s capital.

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