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Elections at PP-10: Meet the candidates
Interview with Houlin Zhao (China)
Candidate for the post of Deputy Secretary-General of ITU
Houlin Zhao

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?

Houlin Zhao: It will be a marvellous achievement for global telecommunication development when mobile phone subscriptions hit the 5-billion mark. However, this does not mean that 5 billion people will each have a mobile phone. According to ITU’s market analysis, penetration figures do not equate exactly to the number of actual users of mobile phones, because one person may have more than one subscription or SIM card. The critical problem is that most of the people who have not yet got a mobile phone cannot easily be connected.

Compared with mobile phone connections, Internet access is lagging far behind. There is also a huge gap between the level of broadband connections in developing countries and the level in developed countries. By the end of 2009, according to ITU figures, the fixed (wired) broadband penetration rate of developing countries stood at only 3.5 per cent, up from around one per cent in 2003. While these figures refer to broadband subscriptions rather than users (and one subscription is likely to benefit several users), they are a good indication of where we are today.

Clearly, there is still a big challenge ahead of us. To improve this situation, we will have to invest in the rural and remote areas where most of the people who are not connected generally live. We need to provide proper services to people with disabilities and to socially disadvantaged groups. We will also have to invest in cities in order to upgrade networks to provide better services to the public. In improving our services, we have to work with green technologies, and this will require financial resources too.

In short, we need to mobilize public and private resources to continue to invest in the development of information and communication technologies (ICT). The Broadband Commission for Digital Development, jointly launched by the Secretary-General of ITU and the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), will contribute to this process, promoting the use of high-speed broadband communication networks worldwide to help accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Question 2

What trends and issues are emerging today in the telecommunication and ICT 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 its governmental and private sector members?

Houlin Zhao: The future development of ICT markets will play an important role. The liberalization of ICT markets and the privatization of telecommunication services have changed many things both inside the ICT business world and outside. The public now enjoys many new ICT services, and world economic systems have profited greatly from the contributions of ICT. These changes will continue. So ITU itself will have to change in order to cope with these changes. PP-10 will provide an excellent opportunity for ITU to listen to the proposals and guidance from its Member States and Sector 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?

Houlin Zhao: Member States form the solid base of ITU. So ITU must listen to their opinions and suggestions, while strengthening consultation and cooperation with them. Sector Members are of course playing an increasingly important role in the global ICT industry, and ITU shall seek more opportunities to raise their status in the Union and further enhance the strategic partnership between Member States and Sector Members. One of ITU’s strategic goals for the next four years will be to look for more members from the private sector.

ITU is very proud of the fact that from the time of its founding, administrations representing governments have coexisted with industry members. Among intergovernmental organizations, ITU still remains unique today in having such a large number of its members from the private sector. In view of the growth of the ICT industry worldwide, ITU now needs to attract as members traditional or new ICT companies whose activities are within the competence of ITU.

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?

Houlin Zhao:These major events will cover many issues, ranging from 4G technologies, and satellites to three-dimensional television or 3D TV (in the case of WRC-12); convergence of ICT technologies and services (in the case of WTSA-12); and international regulations for operational and tariff issues in telecommunications, which are of concern to the entire ITU membership (in the case of WCIT-12). To hold these events successfully will no doubt strengthen ITU’s leading role as the world’s most enduring telecommunication/ICT institution. However, more importantly, the successes of those three conferences will have a profound influence on modern human society for the next decade or two.

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?

Houlin Zhao: The outcomes of WSIS are aligned with the MDGs, so it is important for the ICT world to review progress now, as 2010 is the midpoint between 2005, when the WSIS targets were set, and 2015, the target year for achieving the MDGs and delivering on the WSIS targets.

With the rapid development of ICT services over the past five years, we are confident that many of the WSIS targets could be achieved in time or even in advance. The WSIS Forum held in May 2010 and the WTDC-10 held in May/June have helped us to understand where we are today. Some countries have already achieved many of their targets, while others are still struggling. Measuring progress towards achieving the WSIS targets is, however, an extremely complex task. We are therefore working to develop a powerful WSIS stocktaking database that will provide project information without duplication. The number of entries at the time of WSIS Forum 2010 was nearing 5000, demonstrating the commitment of stakeholders to building the information society and achieving the WSIS targets and MDGs.

Exchanging information not only makes implementation more efficient, but also can create new opportunities for building partnerships. I am sure that the WSIS stocktaking platform will help create partnerships, along with providing greater visibility and added value to projects around the world.

A high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, in which ITU will participate, is scheduled to take place in mid-September 2010 to review implementation of the MDGs. ITU will seize opportunities offered by events of other organizations (such as the UN General Assembly) to demonstrate its leadership in respect of ICT development. In so doing, ITU will help to strengthen collective efforts and partnerships for the push to achieve the MDGs by 2015.

Question 6

What will be your main priorities in the next four years?

Houlin Zhao: Among other priorities, I would highlight a few special topics:

  • to further strengthen ITU’s leading position in the global ICT industry;

  • to further strengthen ITU’s relevance to global ICT markets and the private sector;

  • to further improve the efficiency and transparency of ITU;

  • to study the new strategic issues emerging from the development of ICT, and look for measures that ITU could take, if relevant, to address them.

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?

Houlin Zhao: In order to combat the many challenges it faces and to meet the expectations of its members, ITU shall be led by a strong and energetic leadership. With a federal structure and five elected officials, it is obviously very important for ITU’s top management to work together as a team. The same spirit of teamwork should also prevail at lower management levels and among the staff as a whole.

The post of Deputy Secretary-General has a strategic importance to ITU. I am fully committed to assisting the Secretary-General and cooperating with the other elected officials to ensure the successful implementation of ITU’s strategic plan and other tasks.

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 the Deputy Secretary-General 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?

Houlin Zhao: An ever-increasing workload coupled with severe resource constraints have put constant pressure on ITU in carrying out its daily tasks. ITU staff are an asset for the success of the organization, and I am very proud of them. I will continue to contribute to an environment in which the optimum skill and potential of all staff can be realized. This will, ultimately, bring maximum benefit to ITU.


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