Asia-Pacific Countries Set Out Course of Action for Bridging the “Digital Divide”

Narrow coverage of telecommunication networks and limited ownership or affordable access to personal computers, information services and knowledge on how to use information and communication technology (ICT) continue to be the main reasons for the persistence of the Asia-Pacific region’s “digital divide” – the disparity in access to the Internet between high-income and low-income countries.

That was one of the main conclusions of the First Session of the Committee on Information and Communication Technology (CICT), which ended today. Made up of 62 member states of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the CICT was established at ESCAP’s Commission Session in April this year, to serve as the regional forum for discussions and the building of consensus on ICT for development.

The CICT’s First Session – opened on Wednesday by the Thai Government’s ICT Minister, Mr. Mun Patanitai – laid out the course of action needed to build an inclusive information society in Asia and the Pacific. Held at the UN Conference Centre in Bangkok over three days, it drew more than 100 participants involved in ICT from governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

In her remarks at the First Session’s opening, ESCAP’s Executive Secretary, Noeleen Heyzer, noted that more than 25 counties in the region, mainly least-developed countries and small island developing states, have less than 10 Internet users per 100 persons, while more advanced countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, have 80 users per 100 persons. She added that the session provided “a unique opportunity to discuss our regional response to the challenge of bridging the digital divide.”

Recognizing that some efforts to expand access to remote and rural areas, such as Community e-Centers, have demonstrated mixed results amidst reports of sustainability problems, the CICT, in its recommendations adopted today, called for ESCAP to further analyze challenges in expanding and extending ICT access and connectivity, particularly in the Pacific area, and to make recommendations on the way forward.

In their discussions, the CICT also expressed appreciation of ESCAP’s work in promoting the transfer of technology through South-South cooperation, describing it as a pillar in ensuring sustainable socio-economic development among least developed countries. Considering the relevance of the work carried out by ESCAP’s subsidiary charged with facilitating technology transfer, the Asian and Pacific Centre for Transfer of Technology (APCTT), in relation to ICT and disaster risk reduction, the CICT recommended that the APCTT continue its contributions in this area.

The CICT recognized the need for expanded campaigns to raise awareness and build ICT capacity among a wider segment of society. Its members called for further support from ESCAP in building ICT capacity among government officials in non-ICT ministries and training institutes, through the use of training programmes such as the Academy of ICT Essentials for Government Leaders, set up by the Asian and Pacific Training Center for Information and Communication Technology for Development – a subsidiary body of ESCAP focused on strengthening the efforts of ESCAP’s member states to use ICT in their socio-economic development.

“We have paid close attention to the views exchanged over the past three days and I wish to assure you that we will endeavour to turn them into concrete actions in our future activities,” said the director of ESCAP’s Information and Communication Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction, Mr. Zengpei Xuan. “In this regard, I call on all entities that are in a position to provide development funding and technical assistance to contribute the much-needed financial and technical support to reach the development goals expressed at this Committee.”

Together with access and capacity building, the CICT also expressed keen interest in enhanced ICT application for disaster risk reduction, and asked for ESCAP to strengthen regional cooperation and collaboration in sharing information and knowledge for better disaster management.