Before we start, I wish speak out in the strongest possible terms against any action that impedes access to communications. I call on the government of Syria to investigate reports today of problems with access to Internet and mobile networks as a matter of priority and to take any remedial measures required to restore people’s access. One year ago we were the first to express the same concerns in Egypt and before that in Myanmar. I take the opportunity to remind all governments that Article 33 of the ITU Constitution, to which our 193 Member States, including Syria, are signatories, protects the freedom to communicate and the right to respect people’s need to access critical communications infrastructures.
Let us move on now to WCIT.
I imagine that a week or so ago, many of you joining us today did may not have known much about ITU.
You may not have known that we are the agency that oversees the equitable and safe allocation of global spectrum for mobile phones, aeronautical navigation, and maritime communications.
You may not have known that we coordinate the orbital allocation and frequency sharing of the satellites that deliver everything from TV and radio to GPS navigation.
And you may not have known that the Internet is powered by literally hundreds of technical standards from the broadband access, to video codecs and to the specifications for the fibre optical cables that traverse the globe. All developed collaboratively by ITU and its members.
I like to think of ITU as the ‘quiet achiever’.
We don’t normally make a song and dance about what we do. We just get on with it, efficiently and cooperatively, with our membership of almost one thousand entities, spanning governments and the private sector, civil society organizations like the Internet Society, and a host of academic institutions from around the world.
Put simply, ITU’s mission is to connect every citizen. To connect the world.
WCIT presents us with an opportunity to further that aim.
From Monday, more than two thousand delegates from some 160 nations will meet here in Dubai to discuss revisions to a treaty that we hope will nurture a framework to bring the social and economic benefits of ICTs to people everywhere, and especially the two thirds of the world’s population that is not yet online.
It is very important, with all the talk we have been hearing about Internet freedom, to remember that most people in the world cannot even access the Internet and avail of all its benefits and opportunities. It is out of reach, infrastructurally, economically, culturally, and linguistically.
The brutal truth is that the Internet remains largely a rich world privilege. ITU wants to change that.
I want to create a world where everyone can get access to the extraordinary power of this network, no matter where they were born, what gender they are, what language they speak or regardless of what disability they may have,. That’s what this event is really about.
The benefits for individuals are obvious to us all. The benefits for nations are just as clear; a 10% increase in broadband penetration can yield between a 1.2% to 1.4% boost to GDP growth.
I hope, in preparation for this briefing, you have all read the excellent presentation called WCIT Myth-Busters, which is available in six languages on ITU’s website. If you have, you will know that this conference CANNOT assign ITU with regulatory powers. Despite repeating this many times, it seems that the message is not getting through.
Any revisions to the ITRs should support a framework that ensures that there is sufficient investment and communications capacity to cope with the exponential growth in voice, video and data… right around the world.
We must keep the Internet open for business to sustain growth in today’s massively inter-dependent global digital economy.
Let me also emphasize that ITU Secretariat’s role in organizing WCIT is as a neutral facilitator.
There are many important topics on the table at this conference, from combatting the illegal hijacking of telephone country codes, to dealing with unsolicited content, to facilitating emergency call prioritization, to finding ways to bring down the high cost of mobile roaming.
The right to online freedom of expression is one proposal before the conference which will further strengthen Art.33 of ITU’s Constitution. Improving access to ICTs for the almost one billion people in the world with disabilities is another. As is improving energy efficiency and the responsible disposal of e-waste.
We have a huge opportunity in the next two weeks to lay the foundations for the knowledge society and the future broadband miracle. I want to encourage all delegates to grasp it with both hands and help us to harness the power of ICTs to deliver social and economic benefits to every nation, to every sector, and to people everywhere.