Thursday, May 18, 2006

WSIS follow-up and implementation: First Action Line Facilitation Meeting on "E-business and E-employment"

I’ve just arrived from Geneva, from where I couldn’t write about yesterday’s afternoon meeting due to the Wireless network of the Palais des Nations refusing to give to my computer an IP address (?!)
The meeting was jointly organized by UNCTAD, ITC and ILO and took place at the United Nations Office at Geneva, Palais des Nations, Room XXIII on 17 May 2006 from 3:00 to 6:00 PM. A brief summary follows since the actual presentations (slides) will be posted on the UNCTAD website shortly.
Peter Frohler from UNCTAD, presiding the meeting, opened it with some words about the agenda and was followed by Jose Manuela Salazar from ILO, who made a presentation about the need for the working force to acquire Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) related skills. He also emphasized the necessity of a multi-stakeholder participatory process. Mr. Salazar finished saying that technology and human resources policies should me synchronized. Then, the representative of the ITC gave some data about the information society (number of phones, Internet users, etc) before mentioning the relation of the digital divide with the social and economic divides. Finally, he made some comments on the rise of information technologies enabled services (ITES).
Susan Telscher, from the UNCTAD E-Commerce Branch, explained how the work of the meeting related to the WSIS Geneva Plan of Action, mainly but not only C7:16 and C7:19 (E-Business and E-Employment respectively) and the Tunis Agenda. Christian Planchette from the ITC followed to explain how the “user-divide” was been bridged with the e-trade bridge programme, which it was said has its framework running for four years.
Genevieve Feraud, Chief of the ICT and E-Commerce Branch of UNCTAD, explained some of the programs and how ICT could help in the competition for the mindshare of costumers/buyers. Roberto Zachmann gave a very interesting presentation and in this stage I would like to highlight his affirmation that there is no such a thing as e-employment but only employment and that, sooner or later, everyone employee in every sector will be intensive user of ICT. Then the floor was opened and there were interventions from many people with different topics and perspectives.
When the President gave me the floor, I started acknowledging that the topic I wanted to talk about was specifically excluded from WSIS and that I didn’t want to bring into the meeting the same problems that WIPO and WTO were having, but that it looked to me as if we had the task to try to see how move people around a city without being able to talk about the rules of traffic. I also said that all the projects and the proposals made by the intergovernmental organizations and the NGOs were very nice but they would all eventually hit the wall due to restrictions imposed by the intellectual property rights regime. I finished referring to the paper written by Andres Guadamuz, who paraphrasing Bill Clinton wrote “The Digital Divide: It's the Content, Stupid!” and I referred to the part of the abstract pointing the “problem[s] of access to online content once some of the hardware and network access issues are solved”. I was very surprised when Mr. Frohler said that at this stage ALL the topics would be treated and that he celebrated the idea of treating IP issues too.
Also to comment the participation of the representative of Cisco Systems, who made reference to the importance that his company, as well as the business community, gave to the rule of law and the need of education on these topics (with some references to the efforts of Cisco in that regard).
Roberto Zachmann made another presentation in which analyzed where should we go from where we were. The creation of a community of practice was agreed and the use of ICT to conduct most of the discussions. The technological platform was going to be decided and then the community would meet in cyberspace.

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