Message from the Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau
These are exciting times, characterized not just by technological convergence, but also by "stakeholder" convergence. If we look around everywhere, there is enormous enthusiasm and unprecedented involvement in defining a new telecommunication development agenda by all our stakeholders, who range from our Member States, our Sector Members, the private sector, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, academia and the general public. It is a great feeling to note that the subject of telecommunication and information and communication technologies (ICTs) has assumed so much prominence in our lives.
Never before have there been so many new players keenly interested in contributing to the development and promotion of information and communication technologies. Entities from all walks of life increasingly recognize the potential benefits of information and communication technologies in the economic, cultural, and social development and growth to which all countries aspire. Telecommunications may have been, in the past, the purview of a limited, select few, but ICTs have today become the "guiding light" for a much broader constituency.
It is with these technological and "stakeholder" convergences in mind that the ITU Council determined that the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC), to be held in Istanbul from March 18th to 27th, 2002, will focus on the theme of Bridging the Digital Divide. This decision was also taken in recognition that information and communication technologies are revolutionizing the way individuals communicate with one another, the way businesses do business, and the way governments interact with citizens.
But what impact do these technological developments and this broader constituency have on the ITU and its development function, and particularly on its ICT development goals? What priorities and strategies need to be pursued and what key programmes and activities need to be carried out by the BDT in order for it to respond more effectively to the development needs of its membership? The World Telecommunication Development Conference in Istanbul has been convened to address these very issues and to provide guidance to the ITU on how best to achieve the extension of the benefits of information and communication technologies to all the world's inhabitants.
There are lessons we have learned in the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) arising from the implementation of activities and programmes of the previous two World Telecommunication Development Conferences held in Buenos Aires in 1994 and in Valletta in 1998. One of these is that, no matter how hard we may work, there will always be changes in the environment. If we can't anticipate all these changes, we should strive to adapt to them. It is for that reason that we have geared ourselves to be more adaptive, dynamic, creative, and flexible in conceiving the Plan of Action which will be delivered at WTDC-02 in Istanbul.
The need to adapt to rapid technological change is critical if the Telecommunication Development Sector's action plans outlining strategies and priorities is to remain relevant and if we are to be responsive to the needs of developing countries in a timely manner. The aim should be to manage the environment and not to be managed by it. It is our duty to assist developing countries in mapping out appropriate and timely strategies to ensure that their telecommunication sector develops in tandem with the rapid technological changes, restructuring efforts, technological convergence and the transition towards competition, liberalization and globalization. Promoting competition is one key element to this effort.
The BDT has been preparing earnestly for the WTDC, mainly through five Regional Preparatory Meetings which were held in Egypt, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Cameroon and Trinidad and Tobago. These meetings have enabled the ITU-D membership to take stock of existing ITU-D programmes and activities, and to formulate regional development priorities and strategies which will now guide our discussions during WTDC-02. I expect these to be further developed in Istanbul, through various means including a Special Session on Bridging the Digital Divide, a Conference Declaration aimed at crystallizing the ITU-D vision and mission for the next four years, and an Action Plan which will spell out, in broad terms, our priorities, strategies and programmes as well as the strategies to pursue them over the coming period.
These Regional Preparatory meetings have highlighted the need for the ITU to provide pertinent assistance to developing countries who have vigorously embarked on a crusade to drive the information and communication technologies (ICTs) agenda onto their national development plans. Increasingly, these countries are forging new relationships with the private sector. This is very important because continuously promoting public-private co-financing of infrastructure as a matter of national policy poses a significant management challenge for national, regional and local government units. However, governments can develop and sustain successful public-private sector partnership only if capable institutions, effective policy frameworks, and clear operating systems are in place to manage each critical step of the project cycle. This is where the leadership's political will becomes the key ingredient. And I am proud to report that this ingredient is now a definite part of the mix, as leadership is left in no doubt that ICTs are a solution to socio-economic development. This is additional reason for confidence that the crusade will be successful.
The Regional Preparatory Meetings have also re-emphasized BDT's role as a catalyst and matchmaker for potential partners and a tool for sustainable telecommunication development. Stakeholders' achievements in recent years are there to see. We have worked tirelessly together with governments, sector members, development partners and other ICT players to develop the telecommunication sector of developing countries, of least developed countries, and of countries in special need whose telecommunication infrastructures were destroyed by war or civil strife. We have strived to provide assistance in the true spirit and letter of the Valletta Action Plan in the key areas of introducing new technologies, reforming and restructuring of member States' telecommunication sector, developing human resources, promoting universal access through rural telecommunication development, developing partnerships with the private sector, and putting in place the appropriate financial policies especially in respect of tariffs and accounting rates. I would urge the World Telecommunication Development Conference to reaffirm the ITU's leading and catalytic role in reaching out to all potential stakeholders and partners in order to develop the Global Information Society. The ITU is ideally placed to assume this leading role, given its global and all-inclusive membership and constituency, its core mandate, and its unique status as a public/private sector partnership, in which private sector players work alongside governments in bridging the digital divide.
I am confident that the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Istanbul will indeed make a difference and that its various outcomes will open a new chapter in our collaborative effort to create significant new digital opportunities for the greater benefit of our membership. I can assure you that the BDT is up to this formidable challenge and I very much look forward to further discussing these issues with you at WTDC-02.
Hamadoun I. Touré
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Updated : 2002-03-11