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 Opening remarks: ITU Forum “Bridging the ICT standardization and development gap between developed and developing countries”
 Kigali, Rwanda  2-4 October 2007 
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour for me to join you at this seminar on bridging the standardization gap. My sincere thanks must go to the Rwandan Ministry of Infrastructure who have worked very hard to make this event happen.

I am proud of the links that have already been established between ITU and Africa, thanks to our regional offices, and the efforts of our staff and people on the ground in various organisations and administrations. In recent years we have held workshops in Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Uganda.

I very much hope that this event will serve to forge even stronger links between Africa countries and ITU. As you will be aware, at the end of this month, ITU, together with the World Bank, GAID, the African Union and other partners are organising the “Connect Africa” Summit, also in Kigali, and this workshop will provide input to that Summit.

One of the major issues that we, as a standards development organization, have to deal with is extending the benefits of our work and the opportunities for participation to a wider audience. This is part of bridging the so-called standardization gap. I can assure you that it is something that I take very seriously. Indeed, I am mandated to do so by our members, as outlined in Resolution 123 from the 2006 Plenipotentiary conference. Over the next few years, we will be putting a great deal of effort into researching new tools which will allow remote participation. We will also be holding more regional workshops – like this one –to push the message that the standardization process is open to all and it is important for developing countries to take part.

Much has already been done to facilitate easier access to ITU-T’s work.

In the past, I have put a lot of effort into encouraging regional preparations for ITU conferences and this has become very successful. Countries can now participate in the development of regional proposals even if they do not have the resources to attend meetings themselves. Focus groups provide another way for both members and non-members to participate; currently we have a number of active Focus Groups on hot topics including IPTV and identity management (IdM). Events, especially workshops, are increasingly webcast live and something that is not so commonly known is that chairmen of any ITU-T meeting can invite a non-member to attend as an individual expert. (Ref: Resolution 1, 2.3.1).

However, we acknowledge that more can and must be done.

The standardization gap might be defined as the disparity in the ability of representatives of developing countries, relative to developing ones, to access, implement, contribute to and influence international ICT standards, specifically ITU Recommendations.

The significance of the standardization gap is that it contributes to the persistence of the wider digital divide in ICTs. That is because one of the underlying causes of the digital divide is unequal access to technology and the ability to use that technology. As an example, as many as 33 African countries did not have broadband at the start of 2007 and the average price of service, where it was available, was around ten times higher than in high income economies. The dominant form of broadband available in other African countries is based on the digital subscriber line (DSL) standards published by ITU (e.g., ITU-T Recommendations G.991, 992, 993). Thus, for broadband to be implemented throughout Africa there needs to be a process of technology transfer and adoption. That can happen much faster where African engineers have access to the relevant standards and can implement them, and perhaps more importantly when they can participate in standards development, particularly at the requirements gathering stage

The number of Study Group chairs and vice-chairs from developing countries has increased from just 10 in 1996 to 26 in 2000 and 36 in 2004. From Africa we currently have Study Group officials from Morocco, Egypt, Kenya and Uganda. It may be possible to increase the percentage of chairs and vice-chairs at the next World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) which is the regular event that defines the next period of study for ITU-T

One of the most significant changes made in recent years by ITU to assist participation from developing countries in the standardization process is the freeing up of ITU-T’s biggest resource – its vast library of standards – ITU-T Recommendations. In the first eight months of 2007 some 16.1 per cent of downloads from the ITU-T website were from organizations or individuals located in developing countries This corresponds to almost 300’000 downloads by developing countries, compared with just 500 ITU-T Recommendations that were sold during the whole of 2006 when they were priced. The historic decision taken by the 2007 Council to make permanent the free access to Recommendations will be a major step forward in bridging the standardization gap.

The new management team is keenly focused on addressing the digital divide and the corresponding standardization gap. In ITU-T’s secretariat – the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) - a Task Force has been established to oversee implementation of all PP-06 and WTSA Resolutions, and assistance is offered in establishing regional groups. ITU-D and ITU-T will also work more closely together in organizing future regional events, in collaboration with the regional offices. It is our intention to hold more ITU-T meetings in developing countries and to seek sponsorship so that fellowships can be made available. Work on bridging the standardization gap will also continue, both through a Correspondence Group and through a series of regional workshops including one recently in Mendoza, Argentina followed by this one in Kigali and one in Minsk, Belarus (4-6 December 2007).

The topic will be further discussed at WTSA-08, notably in the Global Standardization Symposium planned for 20 October 2008. A morning session will deal mainly with bridging the standardization gap while the afternoon session will be devoted to global standards collaboration and future challenges. The day will end with a roundtable involving standards development organizations and regional/national standards bodies. The city of Durban in South Africa has kindly offered to host the event, and ITU is currently negotiating the arrangements for WTSA-08, which is due to take place from 21-30 October 2008.

ITU has a noble ambition: to Connect the World. The Connect the World initiative was launched, as a WSIS multistakeholder partnership, in June 2005. On 29-30 October 2007, the Connect Africa Summit will be held in Kigali, with the presence of many Heads of State and Ministers from around the region. It is planned that this will be the first in a series of such events in different regions around the world, focussing attention on infrastructure requirements. It is important, therefore, that this meeting send a clear message to the Summit on the need to bridge the standardization gap. I would encourage you to try to formulate recommendations to ITU on measures to bridge the standardization gap that can be reported to the Summit.

The modern world is undergoing a fundamental transformation, as the 20th century’s industrial society becomes the information society of the 21st century. Politics, democracy, health, education, entertainment, literacy, financial markets and poverty are all being changed irrevocably by the ICT revolution. ICTs have become too important to the world’s future development to leave purely to market forces. Standards, competition and innovation need nurturing and fostering. The work of the ITU-T should go a long way to helping the smoother, more economical introduction of new standards, topologies, protocols and interfaces. And Africa has an important role to play.

I cannot conclude my remarks without a brief reference to the International Telecommunication Regulations, a treaty maintained by the ITU whose purpose is to promote the development of telecommunication services and their most efficient operation while harmonizing the development of facilities for world-wide telecommunications. Some countries have called for a revision of the ITRs, which were adopted in 1998, other countries believe that no revisions are required, while still others believe that the ITRs should be abrogated. Debates have taken place for the past eight years and have been delicate and difficult. At the Plenipotentiary conference last year, unanimous agreement was reached for ITU-T to lead a review of the current ITRs, and I have created an expert group to conduct that review. It has been agreed that Cleveland Thomas of Trinidad and Tobago should chair that group, and that each region should name a vice-Chairman. From Africa I can confirm that Mr Hisham ABOUL-YAZED will act as this region’s vice-Chair.

Lastly I would like to thank the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) for sponsorhip of the social events yesterday and tomorrow and Cisco for its sponsorship of the event this evening.

I wish you all a productive and informative meeting.

 

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