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1997
Statement on Universal Access to
Basic Communication and Information Services,
United Nations' Administrative Coordinating Committee - ACC


1. The world is in the midst of a communication and information
revolution, complemented by an explosive growth in knowledge.
Information and knowledge have become a factor sui generis in
societal and economic development. As generic technologies,
information and communication technologies (ICT) permeate and cut
across all areas of economic, social, cultural and political
activity. In the process they affect all social institutions,
perceptions and thought processes. Globally the information and
communication sector is already expanding at twice the rate of
the world economy. Decreasing costs of increasingly powerful,
reliable hardware and software, as well as the fact that much
hardware has become a desktop item, will continue to drive the
use of information and communication technologies, facilitating
access by eves wider segments of society. But this tendency can
have profound benefits only if gains in physical access are
accompanied by capacities to exploit these technologies for
individual and societal development through production and
dissemination of appropriate content and applications.

2. The communication and information revolution opens up entirely
new vistas for the organizations of the United Nations system; it
will bring about a dramatic shift not only in the way our
organizations will operate in the future, deliver services and
products, but also collaborate and interact with each other and
other actors. Indeed, the multilateral system as a whole - and
specifically development cooperation - has reached a threshold
where our future orientations, strategies and activities have to
be revisited and adjusted to the new circumstances and
opportunities. We are resolved to respond readily and effectively
to these new challenges.

3. We recognize that knowledge and information:
- represent the life blood of the emerging global information society and its attendant infrastructure:
- are the principal resources of the burgeoning information economy;
- are at the heart of the intensifying globalisation trends, and drive the emergence of a tele-economy with new global and societal organizational models (telework, telecommuting, teleservices, telemedicine, distance education, teletraining, teleshopping, telebanking, business facilitation, trade efficiency, trade information etc.); in many instances, physical location is becoming irrelevant for the ability to receive or deliver products and services:
- will increasingly affect the international division of labour, determine the competitiveness of corporations and national economies and generate new growth patterns and paradigms: and
- will have strategic consequences for the global power constellation. Knowledge, more than ever, is power. Information about what is occurring becomes a central commodity of international relations - and determines the efficiency and effectiveness of any intervention which is a particular challenge for multilateral actors.

4. Information is not a free good. Comparative advantages are
henceforth expressed in the ability of countries to acquire,
organize, retrieve and disseminate information through
communication, information processing technologies and complex
information networks to support policy making and the development
process. Abilities in these areas may allow the prevention and
resolution of regional and other conflicts or deal with new
challenges like international crime, terrorism, proliferation of
weapons of mass destruction and environmental damage by charting
better informed decisions - all of which are of utmost concern to
the organizations of the United Nations system.

5. We are profoundly concerned at the deepening mal-distribution
of access, resources and opportunities in the information and
communication field. The information and technology gap and
related inequities between industrialized and developing nations
are widening: a new type of poverty - information poverty -
looms. Most developing countries, especially the Least Developed
Countries (LDCs), are not sharing in the communication
revolution, lacking as they do:

- affordable access to core information resources, cutting-edge technology and to sophisticated telecommunication systems and infrastructure;
- the capacity to build, operate, manage, and service the technologies involved;
- policies that promote equitable public participation in the information society as both producers and consumers of information and knowledge; and
- a work force trained to develop, maintain and provide the value added products and services required by the information economy.

We therefore commit the organizations of the United Nations
system to assist developing countries in redressing the present
alarming trends.

6. Over the past decades, the organizations of the United Nations
system have carried out many projects at various levels
incorporating communication and information technologies.
However, today we must acknowledge that often this was done in a
rather uncoordinated manner. We therefore perceive an urgent need
for a more strategic and systematic approach to ICT and
information management, based on a strengthened collaboration
among the organizations of the UN system.

7. We have concluded that the introduction and use of ICT and
information management must become an integral element of the
priority efforts by the United Nations system to promote and
secure sustainable human development for all; hence our decision
to embrace the objective of establishing universal access to
basic communication and information services for all. ICT and
effective information management offer hitherto unknown
possibilities and modalities for the solution of global problems
to help fulfill social development goals and to build capacities
to effectively use the new technologies. At the same time,
infrastructure and services of physical communication, in
particular postal services, are a means of communication widely
and universally used throughout the world, particularly in
developing countries. Postal services are vital and will remain,
for the foreseeable future, essential to promoting trade,
industry and services of all kinds. Indeed the value of postal
services will be further enhanced as new services, such as hybrid
mail" combining electronic transmission and physical delivery,
gain ground.

8. Individually and jointly, our organizations are already
carrying out or are planning at the national level to embark on
various projects and activities to highlight the catalytic role
multilateral organizations can and must play in this increasingly
vital area. We pledge to do more by joining forces in a variety
of fields, e.g. in agriculture, education, health, natural
resources and environment management, transport, international
trade and commerce, employment and labour issues, housing,
infrastructure and community services, small and medium
enterprise development and strengthening of participatory
arrangements (see attachment). It is our intention and
determination to demonstrate the viability and suitability of the
new technologies and effective information management -
especially by reaching out to and targeting the rural areas and
most impoverished segments of society so often bypassed by the
benefits of technological progress. Unless we are able to show
that ICTs make a difference and reach out to more poor people or
deliver better services to larger segments of society, the
potential of ICTs and information management would remain just
that.

9. Harnessing and spreading the potential of the new
communication technologies to countries, especially in the
developing world, in a timely, cost-effective and equitable
manner will be a daunting challenge. The telecommunication
infrastructure is weak in virtually all developing countries. The
59 lowest income countries (which account for about 56% of the
world's population) share only 7% of the world's telephone
mainlines. Excluding China and India, the 57 lowest income
countries (which together account for one-fifth of the world's
population) have one-hundredth of the global telephone main
lines. Wherever there is connectivity, it is limited to major
cities, the waiting lists are long and there is no indication
that the situation will improve dramatically soon. Within the
limits of its resources and priorities, the UN system stands
ready to assist governments in designing national policies, plans
and strategies to facilitate and guide the development and
management of an appropriate national information infrastructure
in accordance with their needs and traditions.

10. ICT hold the prospect of an accelerated introduction of
certain state-of-the-art technologies superseding the
step-by-step process of transferring know-how and technologies
which has dominated industrialisation processes. Successful
leapfrogging will allow developing countries to advance,
bypassing stages of technology development. While being aware of
the considerable practical hurdles, we are nevertheless
determined to assist our developing country partners in this
quest.

11. We are equally conscious of the imperative to build human and
technical capacities to enable societies to facilitate access and
make best use of the new multimedia communication resources. The
rapid expansion of the Internet and its interactive character
have introduced a dramatic paradigm shift in retrieval, handling
and dissemination of information. The technologies make it
possible for those who need information and knowledge to look for
it on an electronic network and download what they need, when
they need it. The explosion of the Internet and the World Wide
Web (WWW) have created an easy to use communication interface for
linking together computers in every part of the world for
communications, information and data exchange for those who can
afford it.

12. The emphasis on networks such as the Internet should however
not distract from the potential role and contribution other ICT
can make in advancing sustainable human development. Advances in
CD-ROM technology, for example, have made multi-media and large
scale data transfers accessible to developing countries, even to
areas where there is no telecommunication connectivity. Many of
the multimedia options - and especially the Internet - depend on
the availability of reliable, powerful telecommunication
connections with a sufficient bandwidth as well as access to
electricity grids or renewable energy (e.g. solar power), which
are other limiting factors in the poorest areas. Widespread
illiteracy, diverse cultures and linguistic differences pose yet
different obstacles for the introduction of new technologies on a
universal basis.

13. Massive investment in telecommunication networks worldwide
has helped to link most developing countries to international
telecommunication networks, albeit in most cases only their
capital cities. Thus far this connectivity invariably bypasses
rural areas and hinterlands of developing countries, where the
incidence of poverty is highest. We believe therefore that the
expansion of domestic telecommunication infrastructure to rural
areas and its connection to reliable international networks must
become a top priority for governments, the private sector and
multilateral and bilateral development organizations. Unless
telecommunication systems can be expanded, access will be
confined to an urban, literate elite in developing countries,
bypassing rural areas and the poor. Here, rapidly emerging
digital satellite systems offer new solutions.

14. An indication of the magnitude of investment required is seen
by the estimate that in Sub-Saharan Africa raising teledensity to
1 telephone mainline per 100 inhabitants (from the current 0.46
mainlines per 100 inhabitants) would require an investment of US$
8 billion. The estimate assumes, however, that the cost of a
mainline closely mirrors the prevailing international prices,
whereas experience shows that typically the cost tends to be
about three times higher in Sub-Saharan Africa. The enormity and
scale of the challenge to provide universal access in basic
communication and information services to the developing world
would thus make it advisable to focus on the community level and
on reinforcing major development missions such as education,
rather than the household or individual level. Even so,
harnessing and spreading the potential of the new information and
communication technologies to developing countries will be a
daunting challenge.

15. The organizations of the United Nations system alone cannot
undertake this massive and exceedingly costly investment. Such
investment will help alleviate poverty and create new livelihoods
and open up new markets. We call upon the private sector,
governments, civil society and other development organizations to
engage with us in a purposeful and systematic endeavour to shape
and manage this process by:

- establishing and promoting a common global vision and broad-based awareness of the changes upon us and articulating a compelling vision and strategy of how new technologies can be made to benefit all countries, particularly the poorest; building of national human, technical and economic capacities to facilitate access to and utilization of ICT in developing countries;
- promoting multimedia ICT in the delivery of programmes advancing sustainable human development, especially to rural areas; and
- promoting with the participation of the private sector, the creation, management and dissemination of strategic information and data pertaining to the various dimensions of development - globally, regionally and nationally and at the community level.

16. We are conscious of the fact that modern communication links
- and especially Web-based approaches - will materially impact on
programmes, programme content, modalities and quality of delivery
- and hence on the future of multilateral cooperation and
technical assistance per se. For our part, we will accelerate our
ongoing internal reform and change processes to create modern,
cost-effective and globally networked organizations involving a
strengthening of our in-house technical capacities and changing
staff attitudes and perceptions, especially among senior
managers. Another objective will be to strengthen ties and
intensify communication among our far-flung offices opening up
opportunities for decentralisation and for an instantaneous
presence of technical backup and support.

17. Beyond, we intend to harmonize and coordinate our strategies
for modernising and enhancing capacities and effectiveness. The
objective will be to create a United Nations system-wide Intranet
(Internet for internal usage) to facilitate cooperation among the
organizations to ensure integrated exploitation of competencies
of organizations and coordination at national level. We shall
seek to promote cooperation among our respective organizations
through the use of compatible systems which we already pursue
through the separate mechanism of the Information Systems
Coordination Committee. We aim to ensure the compatibility,
accessibility and convergence of communications and
computer-based systems.

18. All this must be complemented by constantly updated and well
managed web-sites for each of our organizations offering
hyperlinks to relevant web-sites both within the UN system and
outside. This will confer competence and global authority to our
organizations in the electronic age. Indeed, as assessing
reliability becomes difficult with more than 65 million web pages
on the Internet, the UN system should become web focal points,
each in their area of competence. We must strive to make our web
sites the foremost entry points for information on poverty,
development and sustainability and universal human values and
heritage The Information Systems Coordination Committee, which
was established in 1994 with the intent of harmonizing approaches
of UN organizations and facilitating access to UN related
information, has made a good start.

19. We also need to explore and comprehend the implications and
potential of the ICT era. Do rapid technological advances trigger
the emergence of a right to communicate and a right to access
information? What are the consequences for the global labour
market, including the gender impact and the role of trade unions,
and the international division of labour; the prospects for
access to global markets for goods, products and services from
developing country economies; opportunities for global sourcing;
the scope for participatory approaches involving youth, local and
community groups, women and indigenous organizations and other
disenfranchised groups; the impact on the elderly; the
consequences for traditional postal services; the dimensions of
international copyright and trade in services?

20. At present, innovation in terms of ICT technology choices,
approaches and content responds by and large to the needs and
perceptions of industrialized countries and their business
sector. We suggest that innovations for both hardware and
software must also become demand- and needs-driven to be able to
respond to development objectives and needs. This shift from
supply-driven to needs driven approaches must become a global
priority and influence the direction and pace of future
innovation. Only then can ICT take hold and make a significant
impact in developing countries - after all the markets of the
future. Among others, this will require the design of products
apt for use in electricity-poor environments (including hardware
independent from electric power such as solar-based or
crank-technology driven) and for use by illiterate people
(facilitating accessibility through iconographic software and
culturally and linguistically diverse content). But partnership
and alliances will be driven both by the technical and financial
realities.

21. Thus, we are particularly concerned by the staggering
financial needs required to narrow the present gap between
information haves and have-nots. A scarcity of funds and
insufficient investment flows inevitably hamper the modernization
of telecommunication networks and the introduction of promising
technologies for advancing sustainable human development. As
official development assistance flows are not projected to
increase dramatically over the next years, we must stimulate
innovative approaches to raise a critical mass of resources.

22. In our view, the sheer magnitude of the task will necessitate
the urgent formation of new and novel cooperative mechanisms:

- industry alliances spanning across developed and developing countries; and
- collaborative partnerships across traditional lines - between the government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, foundations, academic entities, actors of civil society and intergovernmental and international organizations.

23. We, the heads of the organizations of the United Nations
system, have agreed to pursue cooperatively, and in a more
systematic manner, the development of strategic approaches to the
broad issues of the global information economy and society;
therefore, we have agreed to commit ourselves to improving
universal access to basic communication and information services.

24. In order to demonstrate our ability to bridge the information
gap, we have agreed to undertake through coordinated action, at
the country level, pilot projects in the broad areas indicated in
the Annex.

25. The involvement of Member States is essential in responding
to the challenges of change. We therefore invite the
Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his capacity as
Chairman of the Administrative Committee on Coordination, to
bring the Statement to the attention of the General Assembly,
with a view to seeking its endorsement. Executive Heads will also
submit the Statement to their respective Governing Bodies.


Attachment

INDICATIVE AREAS FOR POSSIBLE PILOT PROJECTS

1. Interactive long-distance education and learning: Conventional
teaching and learning methods are increasingly unable to respond
to the rising demand for learning, driven by burgeoning
illiteracy, a dearth of well-qualified teachers and faculty,
shrinking public funds for the education sector and the growing
acceptance of the concept of life-long learning in a world driven
by rapid change. At all levels of the educational process,
long-distance education can become a viable complement to
conventional schooling and training - in particular reaching out
and delivering education services to isolated countries and
regions, which often are the poorest. Where even television may
prove to be unaffordable, one must rely on radio and the
development of community-based media, especially rural radio.

2. Telemedicine: Telemedicine comprises opportunities for medical
practice and education through the combination of
telecommunication and medical technologies. Telemedicine allows
interactive audiovisual communication between physician and
practitioner in distant locations, facilitates the exchange of
medical information for research and educational purposes and
enables diagnostic imaging and clinical analysis from distance to
compensate for a lack of specialists or dispense advice to
doctors. Electronic means may thus help to improve the quality
and delivery of health and reproductive services to rural areas.
Access to computer and telecommunication services can help
transform the role of health workers and enhance the quality and
outreach of health services and preventive health care in
underserviced rural communities.

3. Telebanking and micro-credit schemes: Telebanking can assist
banks to adjust to the needs of the poor and communicate with the
illiterate and poor at the village level and to promote
micro-credit schemes. The available technology is tailor-made for
a market characterized by a vast, impoverished and mostly
illiterate rural population, high crime and widespread fraud

4. Environmental protection and management: Environmental
protection and management is a wide field for various
applications of information technologies, including sustainable
forestry and logging practices, waste management and disposal,
support to agricultural extension services, water resource
management, managing irrigation and natural resource
exploitation.

5. Participatory processes, arrangements and good governance:
Communications is not only a means to disseminate knowledge,
information and values, it is also a basic component of all
democratic societies. Its instantaneous character is bound to
affect decision-making in political, economic and business
spheres. It will equally impact on democratic (or autocratic)
systems and governance structures, their responsiveness,
transparency and accountability and strengthen participatory and
approaches within civil society, empowering especially women and
youth. The technology is apt to create novel structures at the
community level to manage individual and public affairs by all
stakeholders in sustainable development and empower those most
affected by poverty through broad-based access to information and
partners.

6. Virtual laboratories for solving development problems. New
methods of work which were still unthinkable just a year ago are
now possible. By combining the Internet, virtual reality, real
time 3D computing, Net-phone technologies, groupware and virtual
team work, it is now possible to create permanent "invisible
colleges" of scientists working on critical research subjects, at
relatively little cost. The principal objective is to link
researchers with the special needs and knowledge of the
developing countries to the infrastructure and practices already
fly established in the developed countries, in order to provide
access to scientific know-how and information more quickly, on a
larger scale, in an interactive format and to disseminate it most
rapidly. These techniques are one solution to the South-North
brain drain, allowing scientists from the South to be associated
virtually in all key discussions taking place in the world
research community.

7. Universal access to world's knowledge and culture. Public
information institutions, which are natural foci for access to
information needed for development, have not been able to exploit
their potential to the full in developing countries due to
immensity of needs and scarcity of resources. Information and
communication technologies provide the institutions with the
means to promote cost-effective, development-oriented information
services for all sectors of society, building on networking at
the national/regional levels. Of particular importance is public
domain information that the info.-market seems to neglect, for
different reasons: insufficient potential profitability, small
readership (or more paradoxically), the public nature of the
original data. Such information should be inventoried, digitized
and accessed with Internet servers through the support of
appropriate public policies on copyright issues related to
information technologies, the development of electronic cultural
industries, and promotion of the Internet as a public utility
accessible to all at the lowest possible cost.



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