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Congress on Information Technology and Telecommunications in the Bicentennial
Buenos Aires, Argentina 21-22 September 2010
Mr. Chairman,
Ladies & Gentlemen,
Distinguished Guests & Participants

I am honoured by this opportunity to be here with you today to give this Key Note Speech on behalf of the Secretary-General of ITU and share with you some of my insights into Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and the role for public policies in shaping future telecommunication markets.

I am impressed by both the size and breadth of scope of this Congress, which seeks to bring into the spotlight some of the key issues at this crucial time for the industry. And this is a crucial time for the industry – there is no doubt about it. Today, we stand at a crossroads in an era of transition, seeking to cope with the many challenges of a new digital world. The bicentenary celebration in Argentina is a good time to address these challenges.

The last two decades have witnessed not only the birth of the digital era (as we heard from Cisco’s Gustavo Bernales yesterday, discussing key technological trends). They have also seen the ascendancy of the Internet touching upon nearly every facet of our lives, professional and private; they have heralded the privatization of the telecommunication market in many countries, the rise of telecommunication regulators around the world and the advent of mobile telephony. Any single one of these trends can be described as revolutionary.

In this digital converged era, where the marginal cost of providing information over many of our networks is virtually zero and precepts of charging customers according to time, distance or call duration are evaporating, many of the traditional assumptions on which our telecommunication business models are based no longer apply. Today, a single search algorithm or revolutionary piece of software can now overturn an established industry worth many billions of dollars in the space of a few years.

So what role for public policies in all of this?

In this era of transition, this is a very important question which deserves careful consideration. Because the way in which our generation answers these questions has far-reaching consequences for ICTs and the Internet that we must learn to live with, for generations to come.

I see the primary role of government and public policy as providing a framework for the subsequent growth and expansion of the industry. To illustrate this, allow me to reach back just beyond the last two decades of liberalization, back to 1988, when 178 ITU Member States ratified a specialized, but vastly important, treaty called the International Telecommunication Regulations or ITRs at the World Administrative Telegraphy & Telephone Conference (WATTC-88) in Melbourne, Australia. This major treaty laid down the foundations for our modern communications industry by setting down guidelines for the treatment of international telecommunication traffic, provided for the expansion of the Internet, and established some of the key industry norms that govern the settlement of international traffic even today.

The treaty established the framework for the subsequent and stunning growth in international telecommunication traffic, proliferation in new entrants and operators and the explosion in investment for rolling out network infrastructure around the world. It included some very important principles and definitions that are still with us today, such as privilege telecommunications receiving priority within international transmission, the conditions governing the suspension of international telecommunication services, the right of any end-user to send telecommunication traffic (subject to national laws) and a short, but vital clause stating that carriers are not responsible for the content of the traffic they carry.

Revising and updating these core principles to take into account the digital transition and convergence in ICTs will be the main task for ITU Member States at the World Conference on International Telecommunications scheduled for November 2012. And it is vital that ITU sets out clear guidelines to ensure the continued growth and reliable provision of international ICT services as it did twenty years ago, before liberalization.

With liberalization, however, critics allege that such treaties are no longer required. Governments should not try to “control” or interfere in the development of ICT services and especially the Internet. Even more extreme critics allege that ITU is trying to “take over the Internet”.

Let me deal with the broader criticism first. Arguments that governments should not get “involved” in controlling the Internet are entirely without foundation and misleading. Indeed, the Internet originated from government-funded research at the US Department of Defence [the US government DARPANET was an early forerunner of the Internet]. The very creation and development of the Internet is intimately linked with funding and government involvement, so for critics to say that government should “opt out” of regulating the Internet altogether is entirely misleading – government has always been an inherent part of the Internet since its earliest origins. Today, as the Internet comes increasingly to provide a virtual world mirror of the real world, government, law enforcement, and indeed, broader public sector services are just as critical a part of the Internet as it is of the real world. You would not expect to, nor wish to, live in a society without laws – the online world is no different.

With regards to the second allegation that ITU is trying to “take over the Internet”, this seems to be based on a fundamental misconception of not only what the Internet is, but also what the ITU is. ITU consists of a secretariat and a membership of 192 governments and over 700 private sector entities. Most of the Internet community is part of the ITU. ISOC, RIRs, IETF and the major companies supporting the Internet are members of ITU. The Internet is intrinsically dependent on ITU standards. But of course it is also dependent upon other standards, other bodies, and other players. No one owns the Internet and so no one can take it over. However, the World Summit of Information Society (WSIS) made it clear that governments have a vital role to play in Internet governance, and as the lead UN agency for ICTs it is clear that ITU will continue to play a key role, especially in the area of public policy issues, and technical standards. I am personally committed in my capacity as Director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau to ensuring that we produce communication standards of the highest possible quality, involving the world’s most eminent telecommunication and Internet engineers, to provide the communication infrastructure over which the Internet runs.

ITU can also promote the implementation of a host of online e-government services; the rolling out infrastructure to developing countries to bring their citizens online; by managing spectrum to ensure seamless mobile broadband communications; and by ensuring that Quality of Service does not suffer through Net shaping.

Without clear leadership and guidance from the ITU Member States, we risk finding ourselves in an uncertain no-man’s land where the provision of ICT services including the Internet may be arranged according to private contracts between commercial entities cloaked in secrecy and not in the public interest.

There are a host of new and vitally important issues emerging in relation to privacy, data protection, identity theft, hacking and security risks, intellectual property rights, violation of copyright or distribution rights in which government and public policy have a vital role to play in establishing clear guidance and rights to protect consumers and ensure their ultimate well-being.

When we take into account the sheer size, power and influence of some of the new Goliaths of the online world, some of them enjoying revenues the size of the combined GDP of many developing countries taken together, there is a clear need for government and industry to work together to establish ground-rules and best practices for the online world through consensus and collaboration. This in my view is the role for ITU today – government and policy-makers doing what they have always done and establishing in partnership with industry a clear public policy international framework within which the ICT sector can continue to grow and flourish.

This is what I would hope can be achieved at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in 2012. As soon as the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico is concluded next month, we will be preparing for this conference with a series of regional preparatory meetings, including of course in this region. These preparations will include consideration of the next World Telecommunication Standardisation Assembly which will be held back to back with the conference over a three week period. The purpose of these regional meetings is to develop a consensus on what the content and direction of the revised ITRs should be, taking account the incredible developments that have occurred in the 22 years since they were adopted. I very much hope you will be able to contribute to this vital task for the ICT sector and all the citizens of the world.


Thank you for your attention.

 

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