Africa: At Key Technology Conference, Secretary-General Warns of 'Digital Divide' in Internet Age

The management of information and communication technology should be "transparent, democratic, and inclusive," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said of a major meeting organized by the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

In a video message to the ITU World Conference on International Telecommunications, taking place in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, Secretary-General Ban called on Member States to maintain the free electronic flow of ideas and information, adding that the UN "stands behind the goal of an open Internet."

"A digital divide has no place in the information age and 21st-century knowledge economy," he said. "Our overall objective must be to ensure universal access to information and communication technology - including for the two-thirds of the world's population currently not online."

The 11-day conference - which is slated to run until 14 December - will bring an estimated 1,900 delegates from 193 nations together to review the current International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), which function as the binding global treaty designed to facilitate international interconnection of information and communication services, as well as ensuring their efficiency and widespread public usefulness and availability.

Although the treaty sets out general principles for assuring the free flow of information around the world, media reports have anticipated diplomatic clashes between Member States over the level of global oversight necessary in regulating the internet, with some delegates reportedly voicing concern that too much regulation would potentially stifle online freedom of expression and ease of communication.

In his address, the Secretary-General affirmed the need for a free internet as part of the digital citizen's "right to communicate" and share ideas across all media and all frontiers.

"Information and communications technologies are transforming our world, opening doors, educating and empowering people, saving lives," Mr. Ban said, pointing to the effects of social media and technology in driving the Arab Spring protests and similar democratization efforts around the world.

"We must continue to work together and find consensus on how to effectively keep cyberspace open, accessible, affordable and secure for all," he added.

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