Preliminary documents leave many open questions
  One week after the end of PrepCom2, while most delegates have moved on to other tasks, Lyndall Shope-Mafole is still working on the documents of the Geneva conference. The South-African chair of the PrepCom drafting group has until 21 March to create first working drafts of the final declaration and the plan of action out of the various statements from governments and other actors such as civil society. The existing documents uncover the rough strands of the WSIS content debate and confirm crucial areas such as development and poverty reduction. Concrete steps towards these objectives, though, are still missing.
  Lyndall Shope-Mafole, talking to Bertrand de la Chapelle from the Open WSIS initiative
  The declared vision of the information society as well as the basic principles of the preliminary working paper, which will serve as a basis for the final declaration, state that the WSIS should be development-oriented, aim at "fair, balanced and harmonious development of all the people of the world", and help to "reduce the disparity between developed and developing countries". The development goals of the UN Millennium Declaration are cited several times, while the new information and communication technologies are hailed as the best means to attain these aims. However, at this point the technology enthusiasm of the mid and late 1990s seems to be joined by a certain helplessness regarding the lack of progress in poverty reduction. Access to communications infrastructure, particularly the Internet, as well as to the information streams and knowledge reserves it offers shall achieve what various other development strategies before could not achieve. When then in the preamble, knowledge and information are called "the fundamental sources of well-being", the question arises where water and food are left in this equation and whether such formula may not easily serve to neglect the material basic needs of people.

The emphasis on the spread of information and communication infrastructure, which mostly refers not to community radio but to the high-tech world of the internet, awakens memories of the "green revolution" of the 1970s. Just as agro-technology was then exported from the First World to the Third, often enough with catastrophic results, large parts of the WSIS action plan now propagate the implantation of Western technology in the Global South. All villages worldwide shall be connected to the Internet by 2010. Some other parts of the documents, though, promote low-cost access to technology appropriate to local environments, as well as convergence of such technology with high-tech. Thus the papers are not free of contradictions, a clear line is not always visible.

The representation of other issues supports this impression. The controversy on Intellectual Property Rights has lead to passages on the importance of both intellectual property and the public interest, and the need to find a balance between both. The public domain, as propagated by civil society particularly, is emphasised in a much stronger way than expected. This could be related to the fact that large parts of the business lobby had left the conference after the first week because of their exclusion from negotiations. African countries, on the other hand, had lobbied intensely for open technical standards and were rewarded with the short but important statement that open source solutions should be encouraged - even though the additional wording "as appropriate" suggests fierce struggles over this issue.

The regulatory framework for developing technological infrastructure, too, switches between several focal points. In some instances the role of public services is stressed, in others it's the contribution by the private sector. However the tendency moves clearly in the direction of liberalisation, privatisation, and the omnipresent "public-private-partnerships". The latter imply that governments create favourable conditions for business investments for the private sector to provide the actual services. According to the action plan, competition is the best way to ensure the creation and ongoing modernisation of networks.

Cultural and linguistic diversity continue to be among the basic principles of the WSIS, as do education and capacity building, mostly understood as a development of human resources and ICT skills. Paragraphs dealing with security and cybercrime were in some cases copied word by word from the Bucharest Declaration, including the US statement that "a global culture of cyber-security needs to be developed". What raises particular concern are the "preventive approaches" to be taken against cybercrime. Generally, however, the issue of security does not occupy the central role within the documents that it temporarily had in public debate after the Bucharest regional conference. At the same time, this applies even less for data protection and privacy. The Geneva documents represent a clear continuation of a development in the recent WSIS process leading to the gradual disappearance of that thematic area.

Finally, another field of interest is the elaboration on the role of different actors. According to the preliminary declaration, "the transition to the information society shall be led by the governments", supported by private sector and civil society, with the latter focusing on awareness-raising. Reality, of course, could not differ more from this wish. Not only are large parts of ICT innovations being developed by civil society actors. At the PrepCom, civil society was also able to submit much more concrete drafts - often enough marking greater knowledge and experience - than the governments.

Preliminary Declaration
Preliminary Plan of Action


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