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Last Updated: Friday, 18 November 2005, 11:40 GMT
UN net summit diary: Day three
Amit Jain
Indian journalist Amit Jain is in Tunis for the World Summit on the Information Society and is writing about his experiences for the BBC News website. Based in Singapore, he is a correspondent for The Straits Times.

TUNIS, 1300GMT, FRIDAY 18 NOVEMBER 2005

This was billed as a Summit of Solutions. But I'm still struggling to understand what it has achieved.

The two key issues - internet governance (UN speak for how the web should be run) and financing the digital divide (the funding that's required to bring everyone into the information age) - were controversial from the very beginning.

The $100 wind-up laptop, AFP
The cheap laptop was unveiled to much fanfare
There was no realistic chance that ICANN, the US non-profit body that currently administers the internet and assigns domain names, would become a truly international body overnight.

And even though there was an outside chance of introducing a small global levy to finance the so-called Digital Solidarity Fund, that has also been buried - all contributions to the fund will now be voluntary.

The success of the WSIS, however, does not lie in the official declaration that will be issued later today. Instead it's in the broad consensus that has now been achieved.

Few nations, other than perhaps North Korea and Myanmar, now doubt the use of digital communication for their development needs. Even civil society groups, who once dismissed computers as an elite gadget, now show remarkable enthusiasm in promoting Information Communication and Technologies (ICTs).

Friends and neighbours

The United States is no doubt pleased with the outcome of WSIS. It even managed to persuade Iran that the future of the internet is best served by good management, which is not necessarily done in a collective way.

It has some very influential allies. One of those is my home country, India. As a developing nation of a billion inhabitants, which has put ICT at the very heart of its development strategy, India was able to persuade others of the logic of the American argument.

Singapore where I now live - a small but hugely influential city-state that is seen by some as a model for e-governance - also played a brokering role between those looking to change the way the internet is governed and those happy with the status quo.

Over the course of WSIS I've realised that the most effective exchange of ideas doesn't necessarily take place in lofty academic sessions

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. The Summit of Solutions may not have fully resolved any of the knotty issues that were up for discussion. But it has enabled the various sectors striving to bridge the digital divide to find ways to collaborate.

It's all too easy to dismiss the WSIS as a wasted opportunity - except, perhaps, for the ambitious $100 laptop unveiled with great fanfare by the UN secretary-general and MIT.

Personally, I'm not convinced that such "groundbreaking" technology is the way to pull the world on to the digital bandwagon. But at least governments, NGOs and the private sector have made a start, and now see each other's point of view more clearly than before.

Over the course of WSIS I've realised that the most effective exchange of ideas doesn't necessarily take place in lofty academic sessions.

Instead it's the chance encounters - queuing for the toilet, seeking advice with wireless connections, negotiating the maze of the WSIS tent city - that may lead to the most creative outcomes.


Amit Jain is attending the World Summit on the Information Society with assistance from the Panos Institute (London), a non-profit media organisation that works with journalists in the developing world. The views in this diary do not reflect those of The Straits Times




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