TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Technology Summit Wraps up in Tunisia

Technology Summit Wraps up in Tunisia

Matt Moore (
Fri, 18 Nov 2005 20:55:18 -0600

By MATT MOORE, Associated Press Writer

A crucial summit on expanding Internet access around the world ended
Friday with a firm promise to narrow the digital divide -- but little
in government funding to make it happen.

The World Summit on the Information Society originally was conceived
to raise consciousness about the divide between the haves and
have-nots, and to raise money for projects to link up the global
village, particularly Africa and Asia and South America.

But instead, it was overshadowed by a lingering resentment about who
should oversee the domain names and technical issues that allow people
from Pakistan to Peru surf Web sites for information, news and
consumer goods.

Negotiators from more than 100 countries had agreed -- some rather
resentfully -- on the eve of the meeting to leave the United States in
charge of the Internet's addressing system, averting a U.S.-EU
showdown at this week's U.N. technology summit. But resentment over
perceived U.S. control persisted, and participants left with few
concrete pledges of financial help.

"ICANN has promised and promised and promised, and it's not the first time
that they have promised this," said Diallo Mohamadou, a telecommunications
consultant from Senegal. "In 2000, they promised to connect all the small
villages far away from the big cities in Africa to the Internet. Five years
later and nothing has happened. ICANN and the United States Department
of Commerce have deceived us repeatedly. "

Participants said more than 200 new initiatives were unveiled at the summit,
but no exact dollar amount, said T. Kelly, head of the strategy and policy
unit for the Geneva-based ITU.

"We currently have over 200 entries in the golden book and many of
them are multimillion dollar," he told reporters.

Some of the initiatives announced at the summit include programs to
set up centers to teach information technology with the idea of having
them, in turn, teach it to more students, in a bid increase countries'
homegrown talent; a low-cost mobile phone to expand the number of cell
phone users worldwide; and a US$100 (euro85) laptop announced by John
Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab, which aims to ship 1 million units by
the end of next year and sold to governments at cost for distribution
to school children and teachers.

Richard D. McCormick, former chairman of the International Chamber of
Commerce, said private industry must work in concert with governments
to narrow the divide, adding: "Now the real work begins."

"Now it's up to governments, business, interest groups and the
scientific and technical communities to take this freedom and
opportunity to improve the lives of every person on this planet," he
said. "If we can do that, there will be no losers - everybody wins."

Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication
Union, which helped oversee the summit, urged participants to follow
through on agreements made this week.

"It is not the end, just the beginning, but the homework is enormous,"
Utsumi said. "The summit itself ended, but many, many meetings, action
and partnership programs must start."

Despite the pledges to expand access and lower costs, some warned that it
would take not just commitments of money, but time and resources.

"People can see the light at the end of the tunnel but they have to
find the ways to keep going," said Marshall Smith, program director
for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which makes educational
materials for students and teachers in Africa and elsewhere available
free of charge.

Another thread of concern was keeping the Internet a forum for free
speech and dissent.

"It is vital that the Internet remain a neutral medium open to all in
order to realize that access for our citizens," John Marburger,
director of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in
a not-so-subtle swipe at Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia's selection as the host of the summit has raised eyebrows. On
Thursday, the head of Reporters Without Borders was ordered out of the
country after arriving at the airport, largely at the behest of the
United States. Earlier this week, human rights groups said "Tunisian
and foreign reporters had been harassed and beaten. The United States,
which seems for all intents and purposes to 'run the internet' has
largely turned a blind eye, acting like it did not happen."

"It is the role of governments to ensure that this freedom of
expression is available to its citizens and not to stand in the way of
people seeking to send and receive information across the Internet,"
Marburger said.

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Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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