The main mission of ITU is to connect the
world to fulfil everyone’s fundamental
right to communicate. ITU estimates
that there will be 5 billion mobile phone
subscriptions at the end of 2010 and close to
2 billion people using the Internet. How would
you describe this progress? What challenges
and opportunities lie ahead to connect the
unconnected, and why is broadband so
Hamadoun I. Touré: ITU is a great organization.
Even though work is still and will always be in
progress, the Union and its members have proven to
be the perfect model for public-private-peoples-partnership.
Estimates show that by the time of the publication
of this interview, the world will have already
surpassed 5 billion phone subscriptions, and Internet
connectivity is continuing to rise fast. Despite the
global economic crisis, there’s been no slowdown in
demand for ICT applications and services. Information
and communication technologies (ICT) now underpin
just about every human activity. It’s no exaggeration
to say that virtually everyone is dependent
in some way on ICT networks and devices — even if
they themselves do not have a connection. ICT have
been at the centre of all the global issues of our time,
from the financial crisis to climate change, not as part
of the problem, but as part of the solution. They continue
to be driven by innovation.
Today, more than ever, technology is vital to socio-economic development, and we should celebrate
the progress we have made in getting the developing
world connected. Twenty-five years ago, the
“Missing Link” report established a direct correlation
between access to communications and economic
prosperity. Research now shows that investment in
any sort of ICT has a direct positive effect on gross
domestic product (GDP) growth. Interestingly, higher-end technologies — such as broadband networks
— have been shown to deliver the greatest benefits.
That’s why the next challenge is clearly broadband.
As high-speed networks become the rule in
advanced markets, those without broadband will
quickly find themselves just as marginalized as those
who lacked basic phone services 25 years ago. As
we are bridging the digital divide by connecting the
entire world population by 2012, we need to avoid a
new divide, the broadband divide.
Figures show that a 10 per cent increase in fixed-line
teledensity seems to increase GDP by around
0.5 per cent. The same increase in mobile teledensity
increases GDP by some 0.7 percentage points. But a
10 per cent increase in broadband penetration can
boost GDP by an average of 1.3 per cent.
In the 21st century, broadband networks are becoming
basic national infrastructure — just like transport,
energy and water networks.
We must ensure that access to broadband networks
is simple, equitable, and affordable to all, so
that everyone — wherever they live and however
modest their means — can create information, use
information, and share information. This will create
the conditions for the knowledge society that we are
It’s for this reason that I launched ITU’s Build on
Broadband initiative at the beginning of this year,
which quickly led to the creation of the Broadband
Commission for Digital Development.
Together with our partner agency, the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO), we invited the top figures in their fields to
join this Commission. We chose leaders from across
all sectors because broadband will deliver major benefits to every element of society — health, education,
energy, transport, emergency services, climate monitoring,
public administration, and much more.
Our basic message is simple: Build broadband
networks and everything else will follow:
The ability to control and use energy more efficiently
The ability to manage health care in poor, ageing or isolated populations
The ability to deliver the best possible education to future generations
The ability to take better care of our environment
The ability to streamline transport networks
And, crucially, the ability to help meet the Millennium Development Goals.
What trends and issues are emerging
today in the telecommunication and
information and communication
technology sector that you feel will
have an impact on ITU? And how should ITU
respond in order to remain relevant as the global
institution for ICT matters, serving members from
governments and the private sector?
Hamadoun I. Touré: This is an industry that
never stands still. Convergence is at its best:
services and applications, voice, video and data, infrastructure
and services. Technological evolution
continues at break-neck pace and the rest of the industry
— standards makers, regulators, policy-makers,
operators and service providers — have to constantly
strive to keep abreast of new challenges, and
new opportunities. Because ITU’s mandate spans so
many domains that are absolutely fundamental to
our increasingly interconnected world, we are at the
very heart of these evolving trends.
Key developments include the move to IPv6 addressing;
the standardization of IMT-Advanced next-generation
mobile broadband technologies; cybersecurity
and digital authentication systems that help
foster trust in public networks; the digital dividend
generated by the global transition to digital broadcasting; new methods to help the growing number
of manufacturers worldwide ensure compliance with
ITU interoperability standards; and technologies designed
to squeeze more capacity out of the radio-frequency
All of these technological trends have their own
corresponding regulatory and policy challenges.
Cybersecurity will remain a key priority, so will the
International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR),
another great challenge but an opportunity to boost
ITU is best placed to provide a platform and support
for industry to research and launch new technologies,
and for governments to negotiate and
enact new regulatory and legal frameworks. Indeed,
demand for our expertise, and for our role as a global
consensus-builder, has never been stronger. At institutional
level, we have committed ourselves to keep
on innovating and modelling ourselves into a 21st
century organization. Internally, our greatest challenge
is to use ICT applications and services to increase
the efficiency and transparency of the Union,
and continue to streamline our working methods in
order to be more relevant to our members.
The ICT world is changing rapidly. To
increase ITU’s Sector membership will
be key in broadening and strengthening
the Union so that it continues to meet
the needs of a burgeoning ICT market. In what
ways can ITU’s membership system be enhanced
to attract and welcome new members from all
branches of ICT — from traditional players to
new market entrants — while retaining existing
members across its three Sectors?
Hamadoun I. Touré: ITU is increasingly proactive
in soliciting members from new domains, be
that emerging social media players, or new manufacturers
and software developers from nascent manufacturing
hubs such as Brazil, the Russian Federation,
India and China (often referred to as the BRIC economies),
the scientific community, academia, and fast-growing
economies in Africa and Asia.
To do this, we not only need to strengthen our
membership outreach, we also need to firmly define
and communicate our value proposition for these organizations.
I believe membership is indispensable to
any organization wishing to make its voice heard and
help shape the ongoing development of the industry
it works in. It should be the sine qua non of being a
serious player in today’s ICT sector. And this should
be true whether you are a long-established entity
from a traditional telecommunication domain, or a
bright new thing from the world of Web 2.0.
It is not a question of trying to be “all things to
all men” — with the risk of losing sight of our core
mandate. It’s simply that our core mandate — spanning
everything from interoperability and equitable
resource sharing to strategies to extend the benefits of ICT to the world’s under-served communities
— impacts all players, new or old, traditional and
In 2012, ITU will hold a World
(WRC-12); a World Telecommunication
Standardization Assembly (WTSA-12);
and a World Conference on International
Telecommunications (WCIT-12). What are the
key issues to be discussed, and what are their
implications for the future role of ITU?
Hamadoun I. Touré: As always there are many
pressing issues facing delegates to WRC-12,
most of which revolve around the need to ensure sufficient spectrum for an ever-greater number of wireless
applications. There’s also the issue of what to do with
emerging “white spaces” generated by the move to
digital broadcasting, to ensure that everyone benefits.
WTSA-12 will focus on further streamlining standards
work to minimize confusion and duplication.
Technological innovation has spurred the creation
of an estimated 300 ICT standards bodies. Consolidation
and coordination at an international level is
needed to ensure that the market’s standardization
needs are met quickly and efficiently.
WTSA-12 will also consider strategies to counter
the growing influx of counterfeit or non-compliant
products that either don’t work at all, or offer only
limited functionality or poor quality of service. These
counterfeit products are becoming a real scourge in
many markets in the developing world, and we need
to find ways to ensure that buyers can purchase with
Other topics likely to be on the agenda of
WTSA-12 are: climate change; ways to bridge the
“standardization gap” to increase the participation of
developing countries in the standardization process;
and ways of further improving accessibility to ICT for
people with disabilities.
If the ITU Council and PP-10 so decide, ITU will
also hold a World Conference on International Telecommunications
(WCIT) back-to-back with WTSA-12,
to minimize costs for delegates and of organizing the
event. WCIT-12 would consider any ongoing work
needed to revise or update the International Telecommunication
Regulations, which many ITU members believe are now out of step with today’s ICT environment.
The exact remit of a WCIT-12 would need
to be defined by the ITU membership during PP-10.
Even though the challenges are big, I believe that a
WCIT would be an opportunity to boost the ICT industry
as a whole and to resolve both the global tariff
and security issues. Our membership has, after all, a
long tradition of win-win collaboration.
In 2015, the United Nations General
Assembly will assess the implementation
of both the Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs) and the outcomes of the
World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
How important is this assessment for ITU? And
what role should ITU play in the run-up to that
Hamadoun I. Touré: As the United Nations organization
“committed to connecting the
world”, ITU is playing a major role in efforts to meet
the MDGs. We believe that increased use of ICT —
and particularly broadband — will inject fresh impetus
into the development agenda and greatly accelerate
progress in all facets of human life such as
health care, education, commerce, and the environment.
ITU already stringently measures progress and
actions related to the WSIS targets through our WSIS
stocktaking platform, which was further enhanced
this year. Such measurements are important, as we
know that ICT play a critical role as a catalyst for the
attainment of the MDGs in other sectors.
In addition, we will hold the next WSIS Forum in
New York, in order to better highlight our successes
to other members of the UN family, and solicit their
more active involvement in ongoing efforts. The
Broadband Commission for Digital Development is
also playing a key role here by including the heads of
the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
(UNCTAD), the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP), the UN Office for Partnerships
(UNOP) and the World Intellectual Property Organization
(WIPO) as commissioners, alongside top-level
representatives from the UN directly involved in development.
If the Commission decides to continue its
work after the delivery of its outcome documents to
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September, it
could also become a major contributor to the ongoing
WSIS process and the 2015 General Assembly.
What will be your main priorities in the
next four years?
Hamadoun I. Touré: My pledge to
ITU members is to keep ITU firmly
focused on its core mandate, to further improve the
efficiency of our internal working processes, to find
new ways of strengthening our membership base,
and to continue to increase our influence across the
industry we’ve been serving for more than 145 years.
In an increasingly complex, interconnected world,
ITU is quite simply more relevant and more essential
than it has ever been. The two words to characterize
the next four years are: improvement and innovation.
We will strive to build on our achievements over the
past four years and innovate to adapt to the ever-changing
environment in order to meet the expectations
of our membership.
ITU’s “federal” structure — made
up of the General Secretariat, the
Radiocommunication Sector, the
Sector and the Telecommunication Development
Sector — requires collaboration and team
spirit. What do you view as the fundamental
components of successful teamwork?
Hamadoun I. Touré: The federal structure of the
Union is its strength. It enables the use of a
whole team of elected officials to make complex decisions.
Of course this requires a team spirit.
Successful teamwork is built on a platform of a
shared vision, open communication, and mutual
respect. I can say with confidence that since I took
over as Secretary-General, we have strived to attain
this in the interest of the Union. We have been very
focused on the “One ITU” strategy, and have seen
active collaboration as the very best way of achieving
our mutual and individual goals. I have made comments
about this on several occasions, but I take this
opportunity to praise the Deputy Secretary-General
for the very good communication and support, and
the three Directors for their very frank collaboration
that have contributed to the success the Union has
had over the past four years.
It is often said that good people are
the backbone of any high-performing
business activity or organization.
What is your message to staff with
whom you will work to implement the strategic
plan and goals that will be approved by the
Plenipotentiary Conference for the period 2012–2015, within the budget that will also be decided
by this conference for the same years?
Hamadoun I. Touré: Like any successful organization,
ITU would be nothing without its people.
I am extremely proud of the team I lead, who
combine expertise in their respective fields with an
extraordinary commitment and dedication to getting
the job done.
My message to ITU staff would be one of thanks
for all the hard work they have put in since PP-06,
and encouragement that they have proven themselves
more than up to the challenges that lie ahead.
We have come a very long way in four short years,
dramatically improving the Union’s standing in the
industry and its financial base. We need to keep
working hard to stay on top — but with challenges
will also come new opportunities that will take us in
exciting and rewarding new directions.