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CITEL Steering Committee Meeting
San José, Costa Rica
22 August 2007

Speech by ITU Secretary General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Mr. Chairman

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great pleasure and honor for me to address this CITEL Steering Committee Meeting. I am very grateful for the invitation. Let me also thank Costa Rica for an effective leadership during its presidency of COM/CITEL.

As I have said earlier during this my mission, the Americas are a symbol of the importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Your continent touches the North and the South poles with a great divergence of people, cultures and socio-economic developments. A farmer in Canada needs to communicate with a rancher in Argentina.

It is a great challenge for you to be the guiding force that sets the right policies for information and communication technologie for this vast continent. In ITU, we have a similar challenge at the global level; and our guiding force is the ITU Council.

The Council this year will take place at a critical moment in ITU’s history. As the oldest international organization in existence, ITU has attained prominence in recent years as the driving force behind building an inclusive information society while encouraging global leaders to embrace the promise of information and communication technologies (ICT).

To remain the pre-eminent organization in ICT, ITU must address three priorities. The first is to close the digital divide by 2015. According to ITU statistics, nearly half the world’s population will have phone connections by the end of 2007. This is one big step forward, but the challenge for us is to make sure the other half of the world’s inhabitants are also connected by 2015. The second priority for ITU is cybersecurity, and the third is emergency telecommunications.

WSIS follow-up

This Council session will consist of four plenary meetings. The first of these will cover “General policy, strategy and planning”; and at the top of the agenda is the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

The Council will look at ITU’s role in implementing the outcomes of WSIS, and study how to promote the participation of all stakeholders in ITU activities related to the summit. It will also consider the ways in which ICT can bridge the digital divide and build an inclusive information society. One of the proposals being made by the Working Group of the Council on WSIS is to “rebrand” ITU and adapt its role in building the information society.

High Level Segment

An innovation at this year’s Council will be the High-Level Segment. It is designed to provide ministers of Member States of the Council and councillors the opportunity to exchange views on issues of strategic importance to the Union and on emerging trends in the sector. This year, it will focus on cybersecurity and ICT infrastrucuture.

Several events, which highlight ITU’s work and its initiatives in these three key areas, have taken place since the Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya, Turkey, last November. We will be reporting on them to the Council, and I am pleased to share some of the highlights with you.

Bridging the divide

On 6 July 2007, we officially launched the Connect Africa initiative. It will result in a summit to be held in Kigali, Rwanda, on 29–30 October this year. The aim is to accelerate partnerships and roll out ICT infrastructure and connectivity to boost economic growth, and help achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

I first announced this initiative on the occasion of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day last May. To achieve WSIS goals, urgent action must be taken. For this reason, the Connect Africa initiative has been launched as the starting point. It will not be just another summit with endless debate on new resolutions. Rather, it is to be a summit of commitments between partners.

The private sector, governments and civil society will be called on to work together, and there will be a commitment to creating an environment that promotes the improvement of ICT. So the Kigali event will be the beginning of a process. And similar summits will be planned for other regions of the world, including the Americas, where ICT infrastructure is not fully adequate to build momentum towards achieving the MDGs.

The Global Cybersecurity Agenda

As we build ICT infrastructure to connect the world, we have another challenge. We need to build confidence and security in the use of ICT. In other words, we peace in cyberspace just as we need peace in the world.

With more than a billion Internet users today, not only is crime in cyberspace increasing at an alarming rate, but its sophistication is constantly evolving. Fraud and attacks on network security are only a few of the many threats, which range from the costly annoyance of spam to personal identity theft and from the proliferation of child pornography to clean-up costs of virus-infected computers.

We have seen the attacks on Estonia and the more recent attack on the United Nations Website.

Financial losses alone are estimated to run into several billion dollars. These are some of the reasons why the second phase of WSIS in Tunis in 2005 asked ITU to coordinate a mechanism for building confidence and security in the use of ICT under Action Line C5. With this mandate, I was delighted to announce on the occasion of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day the Global Cybersecurity Agenda: a two-year plan to curb cybercrime.

The Agenda is intended to create a platform where governments, law enforcement authorities, the private sector, international organizations and civil society can work together to defeat cybercrime. There will be five pillars of this effort: finding technical solutions for every environment; developing interoperable legislative frameworks; building capacity; establishing appropriate organizational structures, and adopting effective international cooperation mechanisms.

The first, important step will be for every country to have a national cybersecurity policy and response team. ITU will focus its initial efforts on the world’s 50 least developed countries, which are the most vulnerable.

ITU has an important role in coordinating and disseminating information on cybersecurity activities and training. It has started work on a practical "tool kit" to help countries assess their level of cybersecurity and to protect it.

I expect the Americas Region to make a very valuable contribution to the high level experts from around the world who will identify the challenges as well as provide solutions.

Emergency telecommunications

As I begin my journey to Costa Rica, the papers and airwaves were filled with news about two major disasters in Peru and the Caribbean. A devastating earthquake and a very powerful hurricane are destroying and changing people’s lives. Afterwards, governments will have to assist them in rebuilding those lives.

In 2006 alone, it is estimated that 21 800 people succumbed to natural disasters, with 95 per cent of those killed living in least developed countries. Economic losses worth some USD 65 billion were recorded worldwide.

ITU has forged a partnership with ICO Global Communications and the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) on using satellite communications for improved global response to natural disasters. Under an agreement made on 20 June this year, airtime will be available for disaster prevention, and to help ensure an effective response in the aftermath of natural disasters. This will enable both voice communications and other applications, such as telemedicine.

This is an important milestone in ITU’s effort to save human life. Satellite communication provides a platform to deliver a wide range of services and applications, even to remote areas. It allows us to offer a lifeline to disaster victims and humanitarian personnel entrusted with coordinating rescue and relief operations, especially when terrestrial communications infrastructure is disrupted, overloaded or destroyed.

In April this year, ITU also concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with Télécoms Sans Frontières. Their volunteer experts travel to disaster zones to set up emergency communication links. It has demonstrated how telecommunications can be used to strengthen emergency response efforts and save lives. We encourage other telecommunication operators to join us in using the potential of their products and services to save lives.

I urge countries in the region to ratify the Tampere Convention, the treaty that governs cross-border emergency telecommunications.

World Telecommunication and Information Society Day

I was delighted to present this year’s ITU World Information Society Award to three eminent winners. Two are from the Americas region: The First Lady of the Dominican Republic, Dr Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, "for her outstanding contribution to building an inclusive and equitable global information society" and Mozilla Corporation of the United States, “for its outstanding contribution to the development of world-class Internet technologies and applications".

The Council will be approving a theme for next year’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, and we look forward to this region’s active participation.

Internet issues

It is important to discuss various issues concerning the Internet, given its growing commercial and social influence. The Council will consider ITU’s role with regard to international public policy pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources. These fundamental resources include systems of domain names and addresses, as well as the role of Member States in managing multilingual domain names. In addition, networks based on the Internet protocol (IP) will be discussed.

Deciding the budget for 2008-2009

The Management and Budget Group was established by the Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya. It has the important task of presenting a draft budget for the 2008-2009 biennium. Despite the important efforts made by the ITU secretariat to increase revenue and reduce expenditures, the draft budget for 2008-2009 can only be balanced with a withdrawal from the reserve account.

Efficiency measures were identified to cut costs further, and certain Member States are in the process of increasing their contributions to ITU. However, it is a challenge to balance the books, given the increased workload of the Union while the financial resources are in real terms declining. We are looking for opportunities to rationalize costs and at the same time maintain the quality of services that are provided.

Building an all inclusive Information Society

ICTs are omnipresent tools with profound implications for all economic sectors. The way we communicate, do business or engage in leisure activities is in constant and rapid evolution. We have all become familiar with e-commerce, e-government, e-learning, and e-health. ICTs facilitate everything from a payment with a mobile phone to space travel.

We are less than eight years away from 2015.The possibility of not meeting the Millennium Development Goals is very real. And, given that ICTs are the key tools to achieve the MDGs, we must meet our targets well ahead of 2015.

ITU’s challenge is to assist the world in harnessing those tools. If we do not meet our ICT goals, the other sectors, such health or education, are unlikely to meet their own goals. This is why I am dedicating a great amount of resources to reach our ICT goals by 2012.

Those 3 initiatives: building infrastructure, ensure confidence in the use of ICTs and emergency telecommunications are fundamental to building an all inclusive Information Society.

In conclusion, I strongly believe that what ITU is doing at the global level should be undertaken in each region of the world, including the Americas.

Muchas gracias América, muchas gracias CITEL y especialmente muchas gracias Costa Rica.





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