Brussels, Belgium, 02 October 2012
On behalf of ITU congratulations to ETNO on reaching its 20th anniversary! Thank you for the invitation. I had the pleasure of joining ETNO’s 15th anniversary celebration and so I hope to be able to join your 25th anniversary!
WCIT – the World Conference on International Telecommunication, to be held in Dubai this December.
There has already been a lot of talk today about WCIT, and I am sure there will be more to come.
We welcome this debate as there are some very important issues on the table.
It’s a treaty conference, so Member States will be doing the negotiating, but in preparing for the conference, governments will of course take account of the views of their private sector, civil society and public… So I am sure many of your views will be brought to the conference.
But perhaps because of the wide range of issues covered, there has been some confusion around a number of key proposals. For this reason we are holding a briefing session in Geneva next where we will go through each Article in turn and have each region explain its proposals. Hopefully this will overcome a lot of this misunderstanding.
But let me take this opportunity to dispel some myths and to clarify what WCIT is really about. There is a lot more information on the ITU website which is publically available as well as the main preparatory document for the conference.
The purpose of WCIT is to review the only truly global treaty on international telecommunications known as the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which was adopted in 1988 and to which 178 countries are bound.
By advocating market liberalization this treaty laid the foundations for the growth of the Internet and mobile telephony.
But since the treaty is 24 years old it clearly needs to be updated to address a number of concerns that did not exist in 1988.
That is why ITU’s membership, (a membership that includes 193 governments, several hundred private sector entities, academia and civil society, as well as other international bodies both governmental and non-governmental) has spent quite sometime preparing for this conference, a conference that should ensure the continued – and expanded – to information and communications technologies (ICTs) for the next generation of users.
The many regional preparatory meetings around the world, and a Council Working Group open to ITU Member States and Sector Members, have made contributions that will be the basis for the proposals to revise the treaty.
The ITU Secretariat’s role is to facilitate this dialogue and ensure the preparations and the conference itself benefit from all the necessary support to create a treaty which, we hope, will address all the issues on the table.
A lot has been written and spoken about what ITU intends, but I would like to emphasize that ITU is yet to decide anything, it is for the Member States to make proposals, and for the conference to decide what ITU’s position will be on these proposals. Like other ITU conferences, WCIT will work towards achieving consensus on these proposals. It’s a long tradition in ITU. But of course to achieve consensus requires all the proponents to be willing to compromise! So I very much hope we will see some compromises emerging in the coming weeks and at the conference.
In the unlikely event of a vote, it will be on a one-country-one-vote principle. So no proposal is going to be passed if it does not have very wide support from those involved.
Secondly, there are no proposals that I have seen to create a new international regulatory agency, or mechanism, and hence no proposals that could put ITU in control of the Internet!
ITU’s mandate in the Internet is laid down by the Plenipotentiary Conference Resolutions agreed by consensus in 2010 and nothing can be agreed at WCIT to change this mandate.
But it should be remembered that many ITU technical standards support the Internet: our fibre optic backbone standards, our video compression standards, our VoIP standards, our IPTV standards, our xDSL standards. We work closely with the Internet community on these standards especially IETF which is a member of ITU.
As for the concern about increased censorship, ITU’s Constitution recognizes the right of the public to correspond by telecommunications, but on the other hand gives Member States the right to cut off, in accordance with their national law, any private telecommunication which may appear “dangerous to the security of the State or contrary to its laws, to public order or to decency.”
The ITRs cannot override the Constitution, in this or any other respect. So I do not see how WCIT could result in increased censorship.
As we all know, many countries around the world already intervene in communications for various reasons, be it to stop access to gambling sites or sites promoting politically extremist views, or the circulation of child abuse photographs.
So turning to the many important topics on the table include, these include: misuse of the telephone numbering system including the high jacking of other countries’ country codes; prevention of fraud; security; high data volumes and falling unit prices putting pressure on infrastructure investment, a particular concern of ETNO; high cost of Internet connectivity in many developing countries; high international mobile roaming charges; and the empowerment of consumers.
Improving access to ICTs for people with disabilities is also the subject of a proposal to the conference, as well as another on improving energy efficiency and the responsible disposal of ICTs – e-waste.
I should emphasis that these proposals are all high-level principles – this is not a detailed treaty.
Another myth is that ITU is a closed, secretive organization. This would be funny if it was not for the worry that some people might believe what they read.
The fact is that the main preparatory document has been made public since middle of August and anyone can post comments on these proposals or any other matter related to WCIT, on the ITU website.
Many countries have already conducted public consultations. Member States can make any ITU document public. They can translate the proposals into other languages, in addition to the six official ITU languages, so that they can encompass all their citizens.
Private sector members as well as many non-members have had an opportunity to comment on, and influence, these proposals, in particular at regional preparatory meetings.
Member States will determine their position for the WCIT following these consultations and can compose their delegations to WCIT as they wish. They can include their private sector representatives, or representatives of any organization, whether an ITU member or not, in their delegation. I am sure many ETNO members will be represented on their national delegations at WCIT.
So the process is open, transparent and involves all stakeholders.
Most people accept that the issues I have mentioned need addressing, but some say that WCIT is not the place – and not even ITU at all.
But the alternative to WCIT would be a scattering of discussions in a variety of forums that deal with various aspects of the telecommunication ecosystem. And when I refer to telecommunication, I mean as defined by ITU that is:
“Any transmission, emission or reception of signs, signals, writings, images and sounds, or intelligence of any nature, by wire, radio, optical or other electromagnetic systems.”
Clearly, an all-encompassing definition!
Some suggest that some of the proposals will be bad for developing countries – but they seem to forget that the majority of ITU’s members are developing countries, so they are not going to agree to anything that is bad for them.
The new ITRs should provide an enabling international regulatory framework that will help develop markets that encourage innovation and investment to meet the growing demand, just as the ITRs did in 1988. The current ITRs provided the foundations for the so-called ‘mobile miracle’ and the growth of the Internet. A revised treaty can create the right conditions for a new ‘broadband miracle’ and growth of the knowledge society.
Few of us here followed the preparations for the 1988 Conference, but in fact comments leading up to that conference were not much different from what we are seeing today: expressions of great concern. We know now that those expressions of concern were not well founded.
There is no reason to think that the situation will be any different this time.
So the stakes are high, but with so many of ITU’s members exerting so much energy on the preparations for WCIT, I am sure it will be a success.
Let me once again congratulate ETNO, we have held two successful joint events this year and we look forward to more in the future.