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UN Assembly Aims to ‘Narrow Digital Divide, Harness Power of Information Technology’

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 2:07
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Human Wrongs Watch

Ten years after the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society, delegates from Member States and observer entities are meeting at UN Headquarters starting on 15 December 2015 to identify emerging trends, fresh priorities and innovations for advancing information and communications technologies.

Photo: ITU | Source: UN News Centre

The process that began with the World Summit, known by the acronym WSIS, “is where the real grassroots work is being done. It is where people gather if they believe in effectively using ICTs [Information and Communications Technologies] for sustainable development,” said International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary-General Houlin Zhao*.

“WSIS has been a major driver of socio-economic development by providing a tangible, global framework for harnessing the tremendous power of ICTs and I am confident that it will play an even greater role in achieving the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” Mr. Zhao said on the eve of the so-called WSIS+10 High-Level Meeting.

The two-day meeting, convened by UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft, in close collaboration with ITU and other UN agencies and programmes such as the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), is expected to result in a road map for efforts to put ICTs at the heart of new development strategies.

In addition to bridging the digital divide, the delegates will address issues of cybersecurity, Internet governance, human rights on the Internet, as well as areas of future actions to ensure a people-centred inclusive and development-oriented Information Society.

“It is the largest and most comprehensive review of the WSIS goals, targets and process since the Summit, organized by ITU in a multi-stakeholder set up, was held in two phases, in 2003 (Geneva) and 2005 (Tunis),” said the UN specialized agency, which allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, develops the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and strive to improve access to ICTs to underserved communities worldwide.

“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development acknowledges that global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge digital divides and to develop knowledge societies,” ITU said.

“ICTs have become an essential part of long-term social and economic development, but progress will depend on strong, resilient, available, secure and trustworthy communications infrastructure and services,” it added.

The High-Level meeting will conclude on 16 December with an outcome document which will seek to place ICTs where they can serve as an important accelerator of access to education and health care, e-government services, environmental monitoring, women’s empowerment, and more.

In other news today, UN Women and ITU will host the annual Gender Equality and Mainstreaming in Technology (GEM-TECH) Awards, which recognize the tremendous power of ICTs to transform women’s lives by providing them with better access to education, information, support networks, employment opportunities, avenues for political participation, and devices and apps that can improve personal safety.

The awards are celebrated this year as part of the 20-year commemoration of the Beijing Platform for Action.

The three GEM-TECH winners and three Global Achievers will receive their awards at a ceremony held this evening at Civic Hall in New York, in partnership with the New York City Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation and generously sponsored by Mozilla, Microsoft, the Swiss Federal Office of Communications, Verizon and Facebook.

The awards will be presented by ITU Deputy Secretary-General, Malcolm Johnson, and UN Women Deputy Executive Director, Lakshmi Puri.

The annual WSIS Forum, to be held from 2 to 6 May 2016 in Geneva, will build on the outcome of this week’s meeting while looking toward concrete solutions strengthening the impact ICTs in advancing achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. (*Source: UN).


Participants at a “hackathon” hosted by Pulse Lab Jakarta work on apps to improve public services. Photo Credit: Pulse Lab Jakarta | Source: UN News Centre

Some 3.2 Billion People Now Online, But Number Still Falls Short of Internet Target – UN Report

Some 3.2 billion people are now online, representing 43.4 per cent of the global population, but the number still falls significantly short of reaching the anticipated goal of 60 per cent by 2020, according to a United Nations report released on 30 November 2015.**

While the proportion of households projected to have Internet access in 2020 will reach 56 per cent, exceeding the ‘Connect 2020’ target of 55 per cent, only 53 per cent of the global population will be online in 2020, the report found, ranking the Republic of Korea first in the information and communication technology (ICT) 2015 Development Index (IDI).

Africa ranks worst, with 29 of 37 countries in the IDI’s bottom quarter, and 11 figuring last out of 167, illustrating the importance of addressing the digital divide between the continent and other regions, according to the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU) flagship annual Measuring the Information Society Report.

Although the 2020 goal is not on track to be achieved, the report, widely recognized as the repository of the world’s most reliable and impartial global data and analysis on ICT development, notes that all 167 countries improved their IDI values between 2010 and 2015 – meaning that levels of ICT access, use and skills continue to improve worldwide.

It also showed that almost 7.1 billion people, over 95 per cent of the global population, are now covered by a mobile-cellular signal.

“ICTs will be essential in meeting each and every one of the 17 newly-agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and this report plays an important role in the SDG process,” ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said, referring to the ambitious economic, social and environmental targets that the UN has set for the year 2030.

“Without measurement and reporting, we cannot track the progress being made, and this is why ITU gathers data and publishes this important report each year.”

ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau Director Brahima Sanou called progress encouraging in many areas.

“But more needs to be done – especially in the world’s poorest and remotest regions, where ICTs can arguably make the biggest difference, and help bring people everywhere out of extreme poverty,” he added.

By the end of this year, 46 per cent of households globally will have Internet access at home, up from 44 per cent last year and just 30 per cent in 2010.

In the developed world, 81.3 per cent of households now have home Internet access, compared to 34.1 per cent in the developing world, and just 6.7 per cent in the 48 UN-designated least developed countries (LDCs).

Latest data show that growth in Internet use has slowed down, however, posting 6.9 per cent growth in 2015, after 7.4 per cent in 2014.

Nonetheless, the number of Internet users in developing countries has almost doubled in the past five years, with two thirds of all people online now living in the developing world.

Fastest growth continues to be seen in mobile broadband, with the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions worldwide having grown more than four-fold in five years, from 800 million in 2010 to an estimated 3.5 billion now. The number of fixed-broadband subscriptions has risen much more slowly, to an estimated 800 million today.

“More action will also be needed to ensure that targets for growth and inclusiveness are not missed in developing countries, and in particular in LDCs,” ITU stressed in a news release.

“The Connect 2020 Agenda aims to ensure that at least 50 per cent of households in developing countries and 15 per cent of households in LDCs have access by 2020, but ITU estimates that only 45 per cent of households in developing countries and 11 per cent of LDC households will have Internet access by that date.”

In 2015, Republic of Korea ranked at the top of the IDI, which measures countries according to their level of ICT access, use and skills, closely followed by Denmark and Iceland.

The IDI top 30 ranking includes countries from Europe and other high-income nations, including Australia, Bahrain, Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Macao (China), New Zealand, Singapore and the United States. (**Source: UN).

2015 Human Wrongs Watch


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