(WHTM) — World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (That’s a mouthful, isn’t it) is celebrated to raise awareness of the possibilities and benefits of communication technology and the internet across the world, particularly the need for digital investment in underdeveloped areas. It actually merges two days with similar goals, World Telecommunication Day, first celebrated on May 17, 1969, and World Information Society Day, first celebrated on May 17, 2006.

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So why were both days celebrated on May 17th? It all started with the telegraph.

After Samuel Morse tapped out “What hath God wrought!” over the first telegraph line in 1844, this new method of rapidly sending messages exploded across the world. Lines stretched from city to city, and even from continent to continent. New inventions that improved speed and reliability added to the ease of use. But, as is often the case with groundbreaking technology, people came up with different ways to set up their systems. By 1865 it was becoming obvious to all that standards – and standardized regulations – needed to be established.

Twenty European nations met in Paris that year, and hammered out a treaty, the International Telegraph Convention, that standardized charging systems, tariffs, and regulations for international service. It led to the founding of the International Telegraph Union, which would later become the International Telecommunications Union, to help study and set standards. (One of the first things they did was adopt Morse code.)

World Information Society Day was established in 2006 by the United Nations, to call attention to the possibilities of information and communication technologies (particularly the internet) and push for the expansion of ICT in currently underserved areas. It was merged with World Telecommunication Day letter that same year.

How bad is the connectivity problem? The ITU calculates that about 2.7 billion people live “unconnected” across the world. Of those about one-third, or about 720 million, live in the least developed countries (or LDCs, to use the acronym). Another way to look at this is that only about 36 percent of people in LDCs are connected, as opposed to 66 percent of people worldwide. And, as the ITU notes, “People still offline in LDCs account for 27 percent of the global offline population, even though the LDC population accounts for only 14 percent of the world’s population.”

In other words, there’s lots of room for improvement, and that’s what this day is all about.