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 Thursday, November 10, 2005

The latest edition of ITU News has a commentary from Yoshio Utsumi, ITU Secretary-General on the expectations beyond the upcoming Tunis phase of the World Summit on the Information Society.

We started on the long journey to Tunis in 1998, when the government of Tunisia proposed to the ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference in Minneapolis to hold a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). We have accomplished much during this journey. At the first phase of WSIS in Geneva in December 2003, we developed a common vision of the information society. In particular, we declared our common desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented society where the potential of information and communication technologies (ICT) is used to promote sustainable development and improve the quality of life. It is a society where everyone, anywhere should have an opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the information society offers.

At the second phase of the Summit in Tunis on 16-18 November 2005, we will be closing one chapter, but we will be opening a new and much bigger chapter on the implementation of that vision. In this endeavour, we should really recognize the true value of ICT as a central theme in national development policies. ICT is changing our society in ways which are as fundamental as the changes wrought by steam engines in the 19th century or motor cars in the 20th century. As those machines did, ICTs help us to be more productive and efficient than ever before to fulfil our natural desire for a better life....

Nowhere are the challenges to the conventional sovereign State greater than in the realm of cyberspace. And Internet governance has dominated our discussions since the conclusion of the Geneva phase.

The traditional principles of “national sovereignty” that have been applied to telecommunications —namely that each State regulates its telecommunication sector as it sees fit — are not working for the Internet. The Internet, which started in one country, has rapidly penetrated everywhere. Now that the Internet has become a basic element of infrastructure for every nation, it is natural that nations wish to claim sovereignty over the Internet as they do over traditional telecommunication infrastructure.

However, the value of the Internet lies in the value of information created and consumed by users rather than in the infrastructure itself. So, Internet governance requires a multi-stakeholder approach in which users and consumers of information alike agree, at a global level, to cooperate on a basic set of guidelines on such issues as security, privacy protection and efficient operation.

That is why our discussion of Internet governance has been so difficult: because the existing models do not work well. We need to embrace a new model, which I will call “new communication sovereignty.” In this model, we must fight to defend the “right to communicate” rather than the “right to govern.”

Communication is a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. What matters is whether you have guaranteed access to information or the means to communicate with others, rather than the ability to control the means of communication. The “right to communicate” is a fundamental human right in the information society.

As the Secretary-General for the World Summit on the Information Society, I feel truly honoured to have been given the opportunity to serve the international community at this key moment of change in its history. As the wheel of change continues to turn, we must work together to create a more just and equitable information society.