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COMMENTARY

ITU in perspective

 
  Yoshio Utsumi, ITU Secretary-General

The goals and achievements

The past eight years, 1998–2006, have been a seminal period in the history of ITU. This period has been marked by some major achievements, notably in the successful organization of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), but also by some challenges. This article reviews what has been achieved since 1998.

At the time of the elections for the 1998 Plenipotentiary Conference, five pledges were made concerning the ITU’s future:

  • Creating a global information society for all humanity.
  • Making ITU more efficient and effective.
  • Coordinating policy issues on new services.
  • Encouraging participation by the private sector.
  • Strengthening ITU’s public presence.

These goals remain relevant today and significant progress has been made over the last eight years in achieving them.

Creating a global information society for all humanity

Through the successful planning, preparation and implementation of WSIS, we have together established a sound basis for building an inclusive, people-centred and development-oriented information society. The summit recognized the fundamental role of ICT in shaping our common future and we have successfully positioned ITU as the leader in this new world, especially in its role as one of the lead facilitating agencies in WSIS implementation.

Making ITU more efficient and effective

During the past eight years, ITU has successfully implemented operational planning, results-based budgeting and time-tracking. We have improved the efficiency of our work, for instance by eliminating the backlogs in the processing of satellite notifications, and in reforming the business model of TELECOM. We have also succeeded in absorbing additional requirements from the membership, for instance in the fields of language support and enhanced security, without any significant increase in the size of the contributory unit. In total, efficiency measures of more than CHF 70 million have been implemented since 1998, making it possible to undertake more work with fewer resources.

Coordinating policy issues on new services

If ITU is to succeed in the new market environment, it must demonstrate its effectiveness as a place to do business. ITU has reasserted its relevance in a number of significant areas. For instance:

  • ITU’s support for the content team at WSIS enabled stakeholders to reach a historic agreement in a number of areas, including Internet Governance. ITU’s role was recognized in its selection as one of the three lead agencies, along with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for the multi-stakeholder implementation of the WSIS outcomes. ITU also has specific responsibilities for action lines C2 and C5 on infrastructure and security (including countering spam) respectively.
  • ITU played a key role in the adoption of the IMT-2000 family of standards for 3G mobile as well as in the development and spread of IP Telephony.
  • ITU has also been developing standards that traverse the full range of consumer and business applications: from next-generation broadband and web services, to encoding standards for video and music compression, from digital television to next-generation net-work (NGN) management. Work has also been initiated in new areas such as networked radio-frequency identification (RFID) and internet protocol television (IPTV), which shows that ITU continues to be at the cutting edge of technological change.
  • The 2006 Regional Radiocommunication Conference brokered a treaty-level agreement that will see the transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting (radio and television) by 2015 throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Encouraging participation by the private sector

One mark of this success is the fact that ITU’s membership is growing, with some 150 or so new Sector Members and more than 60 Associates added to the Union since the start of 2004. Since the time of the 1998 Plenipotentiary Conference, Sector membership has increased by around 20 per cent.

Strengthening ITU’s public presence

ITU has demonstrated that it can organize a successful World Summit. During November 2005, traffic to ITU’s website was around 15 million page views per day, and this has brought the Union to a much wider audience. Thanks to the WSIS process, many Heads of State and Government have become aware of the importance of ITU. There has been an increase in the number of VIPs visiting ITU, including Heads of State, as well as many more stories in the media.

Looking to the future

In December 2004, Booz Allen Hamilton nominated ITU among the world’s ten most enduring institutions that “have reinvented themselves time and again — and remained market leaders — as the unique circumstances of their founding have given way to changing conditions.” ITU is proud to have been honoured in this way.

Now it is the Union’s job to carry forward and strengthen its role in creating a future in which we can all share information and knowledge, and in which everyone has a voice. It will be a challenging task, but one that is extremely worthwhile.

 

 

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