SOUTH African president Nelson Mandela yesterday told developed countries to support telecommunications progress in poorer nations by continuing or even increasing the imbalance in international accounting rates - the means by which nations pay each other for calls originating outside their borders.
At the opening of Telecom 95, Mr Mandela said moves towards global liberalisation had succeeded in lowering the cost of international calls, but by forcing national operators to reduce tariffs to compete, they lessened operators' ability to subsidise rural and other deserving customers.
'The effects on national services of international accounting rates ought, therefore, be taken into account in the negotiation of these rates and the way the revenues are shared,' he said.
Traditionally, international call revenue had been strongly skewed towards the developing world but many accounting rate agreements were being renegotiated.
Recalling his years in prison and the value of access to information, Mr Mandela said: 'Denial of information is a major instrument of repression.
'We communicated with the outside world by smuggling messages in the clothing of released prisoners. Even the most repressive regime cannot stop human beings from finding ways of communicating and obtaining access to information.' He said this principle applied equally to the information revolution underway. 'No-one can hold it back. It has the potential to open communications across all geographical and cultural divides.' Mr Mandela said the concept of universal service, by which carriers agreed to service even unprofitable customers, should be extended to the international plain.
'The obligation of governments to bring services to the world's rural and poorer areas should, with the globalisation of telecommunications apply to the world at large,' he said.
'Developed nations should understand the necessity and the democratic right of the poorer countries to gain access to the information superhighway.' The international telecommunications community should 'give high priority to overcome the legacy of colonial development which left many countries linked to their neighbours via Europe rather than directly'.
'A new programme of high capacity links between neighbouring countries is urgently needed,' he said.
Mr Mandela said poorer countries were unable to keep up with new developments in technology because of the costs involved.
Mr Mandela called for a plan to be set up with the aim of speeding the developed world's admission to the information superhighway. The plan included the goal of a universal telephone service.