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UN urges even greater access, as Internet users reach 2.3 billion

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A United Nations official has cited the rapid development and growth of the Internet, even as he urged greater efforts to bridge the digital divide and ensure that everyone can harness the benefits of the Internet.{{more}}

The digital divide refers to the differing amount of information between those who have access to the Internet —especially broadband access — and those who do not have access.

There were 2.3 billion Internet users worldwide at the end of 2011, Wu Hongbo, the UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs, said in his address to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which opened in Azerbaijan last week.

In addition, mobile broadband reached more than one billion subscriptions, while the use of fixed broadband was estimated at 590 million subscriptions.

“While this progress is surely significant, we have a long way to go in our collective efforts to bridge the digital divide,” he told participants, noting that only a quarter of inhabitants in the developing world were online by the end of 2011.

“This low number of Internet users in developing countries calls for increased efforts in shaping and implementing appropriate policies to assist everyone to harness the benefits of the Internet, and advance sustainable development,” Wu stated, a UN release said.

“This is a task for all of us,” he added. “The Internet Governance Forum is an important venue for raising awareness, initiating discussions, identifying ways to address the digital divide, and informing the policy-making processes.”

The IGF was convened by the UN Secretary-General in 2006, as a multi-stakeholder forum for policy dialogue related to Internet governance issues.

It includes the participation of governments, intergovernmental organizations, business representatives, the technical community, civil society organizations, as well as any individual Internet user interested in Internet governance issues.

The theme for this year’s Forum is “Internet Governance for Sustainable Human, Economic and Social Development” and reflects the increasing role of the Internet in the evolution of the various aspects of development, across all countries.

“Clearly, the Internet is an important tool for development,” Wu stated. “It is utilized in multiple sectors, including health, education, agriculture and industry, disaster relief, and environmental protection, among so many others.”

He noted that worldwide communication is now faster and easier than ever. Telemedicine and e-learning are available to people in remote areas, and mobile technologies are empowering millions of women in developing countries, creating entrepreneurial opportunities. The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in providing vital government services is also on the rise.

Last week’s meeting came less than a month before the start of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12), December 3 to 14 in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and will review the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) that date back to 1988.

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