Delegates attending the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in December can look forward to another major clash over several contentious issues that blocked agreement of two key documents during a critical round of negotiations in the Alpine city last month.
WSIS is an attempt to bridge what many governments view as a widening gap between people who have access to modern communication services and information, and thus knowledge, and those who don't, according to Yoshio Utsumi, secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the U.N. agency responsible for the summit. The importance of communications and access to networks "is no longer just a technical matter, but a fundamental policy goal for every nation," Utsumi said in a statement.
At September's Prepcom-3, the final preparatory conference before the summit, government representatives and members of the private and civil sectors, including the media, met to agree on final drafts of two core documents, the Declaration of Principles and the Action Plan. Despite some progress, they failed to produce documents ready for signing at the world's first Information Society summit.
Now the ITU is hastily trying to organize at least one "intersessional" meeting, if not two, in an effort to build a consensus before heads of state from at least 50 countries -- both developed and developing -- meet at the summit from Dec. 10-12, said Gary Fowlie, an ITU spokesman. The first intersessional meeting is planned for Nov. 11-14, "pending resources," he said. The second, depending on the outcome of the first, could take place directly before the summit from Dec. 7-9.
The expectations of the summit are high if the Declaration of Principles is any indication. The document seeks "a commitment to build an inclusive Information Society where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals and communities to achieve their full potential and improve their quality of life in a sustainable manner."
The document, representing a framework of fundamental principles, is intrinsically linked with the second, the Action Plan, which contains more than 140 items to achieve them. Copies of the draft documents are available on the ITU-sponsored WSIS Web site: http://www.itu.int/wsis.
Both, however, are riddled with contentious issues, such as who will finance the development of the Information Society and govern the Internet, not to mention intellectual property rights, open-source software and freedom of expression.
"This is the first time that issues like financing, Internet governance and security and even spam have ever been discussed at a global level," Fowlie said. "Because they're so broad and some of them so new, it's definitely a challenge to address them all."
For sure, money is one of the biggest sticking points, according to the spokesman. Demands by several developing countries to create a "digital solidarity fund" have met strong resistance by developed countries, which argue that existing financing mechanisms could be better leveraged, he said.