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Damascus hosts Arab States’ preparatory meeting for WTDC-10
 
Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid
photo credit: UIT/V. Martin
“ The full recovery of the ICT industry will provide many opportunities. ”

Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid,
Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau
 
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Photo credit: Shutterstock

On 17–19 January 2010, the Syrian Arab Republic hosted in its capital, Damascus, the Arab States’ preparatory meeting for the World Telecommunication Development Conference 2010 (WTDC-10), taking place in India from 24 May to 4 June.

The meeting was attended by representatives of 18 countries, as well as regional and international organizations, operating agencies and other entities dealing with telecommunications. They discussed the region’s priorities for developing information and communication technologies (ICT). Director General Nazem Bahsas of the Syrian Telecom Establishment (STE) was elected as Chairman of the meeting, alongside Vice-Chairmen Mohammed Al Wahaibi, Deputy Minister from the Sultanate of Oman; Ahmed Gamal El-Mekkawy from Egypt and Abdelghani Loutfi from Morocco.

Mr Bahsas stressed the importance of ICT as an effective tool for development and said he hoped that its results would have a positive impact on the region and the world at large. Syria’s Minister of Communications and Technology Imad Sabouni highlighted the need for Arab countries to play an active role in the preparations for WTDC-10. He acknowledged the role of the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU–D) in helping the region achieve the goals of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

ITU Deputy Secretary-General Houlin Zhao remarked that, in spite of the financial downturn, ICT continue to play a significant role in social and economic development. He encouraged Arab countries to take the opportunity to assess how the future development activities of ITU can best serve the interests of the region.

Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), also emphasized that the meeting provided a unique opportunity for the region to define its priorities. “This will ensure that our resources are employed in the course of the next four years in areas in which they will have the greatest impact for the region,” he added. “The current resurgence of the financial markets and the full recovery of the ICT industry will provide many opportunities in terms of availability of project financing, innovation and the emergence of new and exciting technologies,” Mr Al Basheer concluded.

After considering various proposals, the meeting decided upon a set of priority areas for programmes, regional initiatives and Study Group Questions for the future work of ITU–D.

Regional priorities

ICT infrastructure

Developing fixed, mobile, broadband and broadcasting networks, including spectrum management, rural communications, and emergency telecommunication and disaster relief.

Cybersecurity and ICT applications

Promoting e-government, e-health, e-environment and applications relating to climate change, and promoting cybersecurity, including the protection of children and young people.

Enabling environment

Policy and regulatory matters on telecommunications and ICT, including economics (market analysis, cost modelling and tariffs) and statistics (indicators measuring the information society).

Capacity building and other initiatives

Facilitating access to information and knowledge for all, particularly for women, young people and children, indigenous people, underserved communities and other disadvantaged groups.

Regional initiatives

The Arab Regional Initiatives are intended to address the priority areas through partnerships and mobilizing resources for small, medium- and large-scale projects. The initiatives proposed by the Damascus meeting were as follows.

Broadband connectivity

ITU Member States in the region need assistance in developing broadband access in urban and rural areas. This would be achieved through creation of national ICT master plans; improved broadband infrastructure (including migration to next-generation networks) and access to affordable ICT services; development of applications to support multilingualism and address local needs, and strengthening human resources.

Digital broadcasting

States need help to make a smooth transition from analogue to digital broadcasting and take advantage of the digital dividend. Guidelines should be created for the region, as well as master plans and regulatory frameworks for digital terrestrial broadcasting, including mobile television. Also, broadcasters should be given assistance with interactive multimedia services, and skills training should be provided.

Open source software

Free and open source software needs to be developed for the region and made available to small and medium-sized enterprises, and support centres should be established and best practice determined.

Arabic digital content

The introduction of Arabic domain names should be encouraged, as should websites that offer relevant content for the development of the region; mechanisms should be created to convert archives into digital form, and improve access to Arabic culture.

Cybersecurity

The adoption of national frameworks on cybersecurity should be encouraged, alongside coordinated regional strategies; children and young people must be protected online; more computer incident response teams (CIRT) need to be established in the region, and their work coordinated.

The creation of CIRT was the topic of a draft resolution that the preparatory meeting decided to submit to WTDC-10. Other draft resolutions covered access to ICT by people with disabilities; the migration from Internet protocol version 4 (IPv4) to IPv6, and ICT and climate change in developing countries. In addition, the meeting agreed that a special programme and global initiatives should be carried out to assist least developed countries, small island developing States, land-locked countries and those in special need (such as following a natural disaster).

During the meeting a report by BDT was introduced on “Information Society: Statistical Profiles 2009 — Arab States”. It shows that there has been progress in the region’s ICT infrastructure, especially in mobile telephony. From 1999, this grew at an annual rate of 55 per cent to reach a penetration level of 63 per cent at the end of 2008, when there were also 16 Internet users per 100 inhabitants, a rise from only 4 in 2003 (see Figure 1).

Nevertheless, compared to other world regions, Internet usage (particularly broadband access) is still rather limited in the Arab States. “The focus now is on rolling out broadband access. This is the right and necessary course to take, as it will increase the number of Internet users and accelerate the spread of e-applications and services which will, in turn, contribute to achieving rapid social and economic development,” noted Mr Al Basheer.

Figure 1 — ICT in the Arab States and worldwide, 2008
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Source: ITU World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators database.

 

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