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The moderator of the high-level session Bridging Digital Divides, Ms Nitya Mohan Khemka (Affiliate Lecturer, University of Cambridge), explained the new format of the discussion, in which participants would be asked questions and given three minutes to respond.
Mr Yushi Torigoe (WSIS Action Line Facilitator, Deputy Director at International Telecommunication Union (ITU)) presented the WSIS action line contribution to bridging the digital divide. He mentioned that since 2009, the ITU has assisted more than 40 countries in expanding their networks and building a new infrastructure. Moreover, Torigoe reminded the audience of the online map tool and research that the ITU does.
Mr Debretsion Gebremichael Measho (Minister, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Ethiopia) stressed the social aspect of the divide. He presented five important factors to be addressed in bridging the divide: quality broadband, utilisation of connections, knowledge/skills, local content, and poverty.
The social aspect was also emphasised by Mr Edgar Olvera Jiménez (Vice Minister of Communications, Secretariat of Communications and Transportation, Mexico) who presented the benefits of the telecom reform in 2013. According to him, this was a major milestone because Mexico has made access to ICTs a human right, and made it a government obligation to provide Internet access.
Mr Shigeki Suzuki (Vice Minister for Policy Coordination, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan) focused on the investment needed to secure ICT improvement. The government's role is to set national goals, disseminate tasks to stakeholders, and encourage competition. Suzuki also mentioned non-profitable areas as a priority for the government.
Overall implementation of digital technology, especially in economy, was the focus of Mr Rashid Ismailov (Deputy Minister, Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation, Russian Federation). There are three levels of digital economy: markets, platforms for technological development, and favorable environment. Ismailov noted the 'National e-library' project that offers free, open access to massive information, which is successfully implemented.
Mr Virat Bhatia (Vice-Chair, Commission on the Digital Economy (France), International Chamber of Commerce, AT&T) spoke of the policy paradox of access in India – the second most connected country in the ITU, but with millions of unconnected. India made great progress because the government facilitated competition and replied with new policies when the ICT sector asked for an intervention.
'There are more divides, not just the digital one', said Mr Syed Ismail Shah (Chairman, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)). According to Shah, other divides come from different affordability, needs, gender, vulnerability, and skills. Pakistan included these issues in their policies.
Ms Constance Bommelaer de Leusse (Senior Director of Global Internet Policy, Internet Society) focused on local access solutions and pointed to the report on community networks in Africa. She called for the creation of a holistic, 'enabling environment'. Regulators should consider accepting the community network model, policy makers should provide for funds and operators should consider partnerships with communities to support this model.
The role of a regulatory body in bridging the gap was presented by Mr Jaime Herrera (Member of the Board, Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones (SUTEL) Costa Rica)). SUTEL is tasked with several objectives such as promoting access, reducing the divide, and promoting connectivity and has five programmes running to fulfill these objectives.
Ms Fátima Barros (Chair of Board of Directors, Autoridade Nacional de Comunicações (ANACOM), Portugal) gave a European perspective and a different concern. 'Portugal needs high-speed broadband', Barros said. Basic connectivity is successfully in place, with about 75% of households having access to next generation networks. Fiber coverage in Portugal is high because of the competition that brought in investment, reduced costs, and improved infrastructure. Barros highlighted the importance of governmental regulation in imposing coverage obligations to operators when obtaining licenses. She also stressed that private-public-partnership was an important tool in connecting the rural areas. Currently, one third of Portugal has low digital literacy, which means that these citizens do not know how to use the Internet. This is slowing down the adoption and penetration of high speed broadband.
by Jana Mišić