The role of International Standards in contributing to the development of a global Information Society was acknowledged at the recent World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held in Geneva, Switzerland, on 10-12 December 2003.

The Summit Declaration of Principles, entitled "Building the Information Society: a global challenge in the new Millennium" recognizes that international standardization is one of the key enablers for the development of a global Information Society (item 44. of the Declaration, under section 6., Enabling environment):

"Standardization is one of the essential building blocks of the Information Society. There should be particular emphasis on the development and adoption of International Standards. The development and use of open, interoperable, non-discriminatory and demand-driven standards that take into account needs of users and consumers is a basic element for the development and greater diffusion of ICTs and more affordable access to them, particularly in developing countries. International Standards aim to create an environment where consumers can access services worldwide regardless of underlying technology."

To achieve this result, a joint project team was set up by the three apex organizations in international standardization: ISO (International Organization for Standardization), the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and the ITU-T (International Telecommunication Union's standardization sector), partnering also with the United Nation's Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE). This team followed the whole Summit preparatory process.

With the support of the ISO President and due to the efforts of many of ISO's national member institutes, the standardization message was circulated during the five WSIS regional preparation conferences. In addition, a constructive dialogue was established with many government delegations during the WSIS preparatory meetings in Geneva (notably Prep Com 2 in February 2003, Prep Com 3 in September 2003 and its follow-up in November and December 2003).

ISO Secretary-General Alan Bryden commented: "The WSIS preparation process is a shining example of cooperation among ISO, IEC and ITU-T, undertaken under the auspices of the World Standards Cooperation (WSC), the entity created by the three organizations to promote and harmonize the international standardization system.

"Coordinating resources and contributions from the respective stakeholders, it was possible to deliver a sound and consistent message that has been well received during the various preparation phases and reflected in the Summit final documents."

WSIS

This three-day Summit was the first multi-stakeholder global effort to share and shape the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) for a better world. More than 11 000 people participated to the Summit, including Heads of State, and Ministers from 176 countries, 50 international organizations, 50 UN bodies and agencies, 98 business entities and 481 nongovernmental organizations.

The overall goal of the Summit was to gain the will and commitment of policy-makers to make ICTs a top priority, and to bring together public and private sector players to forge an inclusive dialogue based on the interests of all.

In these two respects, the Summit has been heralded a success, with broad consensus earned for a Declaration of Principles for the Information Society and a Plan of Action highlighting national strategies and a number of targets to be reached.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told delegates: "Technology has given birth to the Information Age. Now it is up to all of us to build an Information Society from trade to telemedicine, from education to environmental protection. We have in our hands, on our desktops and in the skies above, the ability to improve standards of living for millions upon millions of people."

Top Summit targets now remain to be achieved, including connecting all schools, villages, governments and hospitals, and bringing half the world's population within ICT reach, all by the year 2015.

The Summit has clearly identified national e-strategies as the key vehicle to meet the targets. Connecting public places, revising school curricula, extending the reach of TV and radio broadcasting services and fostering rich multilingual content are all recognized as needing strong national-level governmental commitments.

The second phase of the Summit takes place in Tunis in 2005 and will measure progress to the ambitious goals set in Geneva in December 2003. Hard work now lies ahead in the two years before Tunis to show that development of the Information Society is on the right path.