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International Standardization at the Heart of World Summit

Reprinted from an IEC press release

Geneva, Switzerland, Dec 19, 2003

In its Declaration of Principles, entitled “Building the Information Society: A global challenge in the new Millennium”, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) has made international standardization one of the keys to the effort.

The document reads (in part):

Standardization is one of the essential building blocks of the Information Society. There should be particular emphasis on the development and adoption of international standards. The development and use of open, interoperable, non-discriminatory and demand-driven standards that take into account needs of users and consumers is a basic element for the development and greater diffusion of ICTs and more affordable access to them, particularly in developing countries. International standards aim to create an environment where consumers can access services worldwide regardless of underlying technology.

According to IEC General Secretary Aharon Amit, “this result comes thanks to the efforts of the Word Standardization Co-operation – the coordination body comprising the three international standardization organizations, the IEC, ISO and ITU-T. It is a first for the WSC. No matter what the ultimate outcome of this Summit, the result we achieved in ensuring that standardization is a key part of the document is a good example of how the WSC can and will operate effectively. This result is also, in large part, thanks to those IEC members around the world that worked hard to help bring this about. By applying pressure individually, a common effort was created that helped to produce the result.”

Early in 2003, the IEC asked its members to help to ensure that their governments would work to include standardization in the WSIS declaration.

The WSC was created to improve the co-operation between the IEC, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and ISO, the International Organization for Standardization. Its role is to co-ordinate policy among the three so they can present a common face when dealing with other international organizations, with government, with industry and consumer leaders, and with all others who have an interest in international standards.

At the Opening Ceremony to the first phase of the WSIS in Geneva, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: “We are going through a historic transformation in the way we live, learn, work, communicate and do business. We must do so not passively, but as makers of our own destiny. Technology has produced the information age. Now it is up to all of us to build an information society.”

The dynamic process described by Annan may to lead to fundamental change in all aspects of contemporary living, including knowledge dissemination, social interaction, economic and business practices, political engagement, media, education, health, leisure and entertainment. The WSIS provides an opportunity for all key stakeholders to develop a better understanding of this revolution and its impact on the international community. The overarching goal of the summit has been to gain the will and commitment of policy-makers to make ICTs (information and communication technologies) a top priority, and to bring together public and private sector players to forge an inclusive dialogue based on the interests of all.

Participants to the WSIS include governments, the private sector, civil society and the United Nations family of organizations. This summit gives civil society, which includes the IEC, an opportunity to bring its concerns to the table.

The first phase of the summit, held from 10 to 12 December 2003 in Geneva, Switzerland, saw a total of 10 800 people participating. It addressed a broad range of themes concerning the Information Society and adopted a Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action. A number of targets have now been spelled out in the Plan of Action relating to national strategy building. This includes formulating strategies for ICT and public-private partnerships.

The Summit identified national e-strategies as the key vehicle to meet the targets. Connecting public places, revising school curricula, extending the reach of TV and radio broadcasting services and fostering rich multilingual content are all recognized as needing strong national-level governmental commitments.

Concerning the need for national governments to establish strategies for ICT, Pierre Guislain, Director of the World Bank, highlighted what he considers to be key elements of these strategies, which include:

  • a manageable set of specific and targeted goals;
  • indicators to measure performance;
  • benchmarks to compare the progress of the e-strategies against time or across countries;
  • sharing of experiences to enable comparison across countries;
  • a specialized institutional mechanism for implementation of policies

The second and final phase of the summit is scheduled to be held in Tunis, Tunisia, in 2005.

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