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Elections at PP-10: Meet the candidates
Interview with Dr Hamadoun I. Touré (Mali)
Candidate for the post of Secretary-General of ITU
Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Question 1

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 important now?

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 building.

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.

Question 2

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 spectrum.

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 the industry.

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.

Question 3

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 ground-breaking alike.

Question 4

In 2012, ITU will hold a World Radiocommunication Conference (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 confidence.

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.

Question 5

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 Assembly?

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.

Question 6

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.

Question 7

ITU’s “federal” structure — made up of the General Secretariat, the Radiocommunication Sector, the Telecommunication Standardization 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.

Question 8

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.


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