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WSIS five years on
Information and communication infrastructure
 
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Photo credit: AFP/SHO
 

An essential foundation for the information society

Two thirds of the world’s population are still without access to the Internet and so are excluded from the information society. Infrastructure for information and communication technologies (ICT) is key to providing that access, and is ever more necessary.

World leaders at the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held in Geneva in 2003, issued a Declaration of Principles and a Plan of Action. The second phase of WSIS, held in Tunis in 2005, added the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society to the two Geneva documents. The 11 “action lines” in the Geneva Plan of Action set forth key elements for building the information society.

ITU, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) were together tasked to take a lead role in facilitating the overall implementation of the Plan of Action, while ITU was named as sole moderator and facilitator for WSIS Action Line C2 on information and communication infrastructure.

The Plan of Action highlights infrastructure as being central to achieving the goal of digital inclusion, by enabling universal, sustainable, ubiquitous and affordable access to ICT by all. It defines specific actions to be implemented under Action Line C2, and urges ITU to undertake technical, regulatory and operational studies for the development and strengthening of national, regional and international broadband network infrastructure.

ITU has engaged in its WSIS tasks with dedication and determination. Since 2005, as sole moderator and facilitator for WSIS Action Line C2, ITU has carried out successful activities to promote national ICT strategies, harmonize ICT policies in different regions, develop regional and large-scale national initiatives, launch global thematic ICT infrastructure initiatives, develop a virtual financing platform and launch a web portal.

Facilitation meetings and their impact

As a first step, ITU held a consultation meeting on WSIS Action Line C2 in Doha, Qatar, in March 2006 in conjunction with the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-06), followed by five facilitation meetings in Geneva.

The first of these meetings, held in May 2006, built on the outcomes of WTDC-06. The second, held in May 2007, discussed the Geneva Plan of Action, analysing synergies with other WSIS action lines. It received contributions from several entities involved in ICT infrastructure development, including the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Infinity Worldwide Telecom Group of Companies, Infinity West Africa Fiber Optic Project, and the Association for Progressive Communication. The third meeting, organized jointly with UNDP in May 2008, focused on infrastructure projects, while an Ambassadors Round Table addressed financing mechanisms for infrastructure development. The fourth meeting was held in May 2009 as an integral part of WSIS Forum 2009, profiting from a Ministerial Segment which discussed the strategic role of ICT infrastructure development at national, regional and international levels.

The fifth meeting, held in May 2010 as an integral part of WSIS Forum 2010, provided an update on ITU activities in the area of ICT infrastructure development. A new web portal for reporting on the activities of WSIS Action Line C2 was presented (www.itu.int/ITU-D/wsis/C2/). The portal serves as the active repository for the road map of ITU’s ongoing and planned activities, and best practices, as well as a platform for feedback from its Member States, calls for assistance and general comments.

All five facilitation meetings have reinforced ITU’s role in implementing WSIS Action Line C2 and have paved the way for future work.

Infrastructure development projects

In line with the decisions of WTDC-06, ITU’s Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU–D) has initiated 25 regional initiatives to facilitate ICT infrastructure development in Africa, the Americas, the Arab States, Asia-Pacific and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), in its role as implementer, has continued its efforts since 2006 to facilitate the development of ICT infrastructure worldwide. Each year more than 50 activities directly associated with WSIS Action Line C2 have been reflected in BDT’s Operational Plan for implementation. These activities have focused on technical, policy and regulatory aspects of network development, broadband connectivity, access in rural areas, radiofrequency spectrum planning, and broadcasting — notably digital terrestrial broadcasting networks.

Some pioneering examples of BDT’s work include:

  • The harmonization of policies and guidelines for ICT markets, and human and institutional capacity building in ICT in three regions (sub-Saharan Africa, Caribbean countries, and Pacific Island States).

  • Rural telecommunications, ICT services and entrepreneurship development.

  • Rehabilitation and reconstruction of telecommunication infrastructure, and contribution to the establishment of an early warning system in countries affected by earthquakes or tsunami.

  • Publication of a Telecom Network Planning Manual for evolving network architectures (versions 4 and 5) to be used to facilitate the planning of network architectures and the transition to next-generation networks (NGN).

The WSIS Stocktaking Database maintained by ITU is an effective tool for the exchange of information on projects being implemented within the scope of Action Line C2.

Connect the World Summits

Within the framework of the Connect the World initiative, launched by ITU in 2005, the Union helps mobilize the financial, human and technical resources needed to implement the outcomes of WSIS and WTDC.

Connect Africa, the first Connect the World Summit, held in 2007 in Kigali, Rwanda, resulted in commitments of USD 55 billion from various stakeholders. Building on that success, ITU and partners organized the second Summit, Connect CIS, in 2009 in Minsk, Belarus, where Heads of State from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan expressed their personal support for the initiative.

In early 2009, BDT launched six global Connect the World flagship initiatives: Wireless Broadband Partnership; Connecting Villages; Connect a School, Connect a Community; ITU Academy Partnership; ITU Mobile Health Initiative; and ITU–IMPACT Collaboration on Cybersecurity. The aim of these initiatives is to build upon and strengthen promising projects that start in one region or with one industry partner, by providing an attractive, open platform and brand that can be promoted to additional partners globally or in various regions.

Connect a School, Connect a Community

Through the Connect a School, Connect a Community initiative, ITU aims to improve access to broadband in schools, and to enable schools to serve as community ICT centres. ITU has developed an online toolkit to share best practices and advice on developing national school connectivity plans. The online platform includes a repository of training materials and applications that can be used by community ICT centres.

A project in the Americas region is under way to develop a model national school connectivity plan and a model connected school. The initiative has attracted a number of partners, and working with them will enable ITU to assist selected countries in the preparation of their national school connectivity plans and the development of connected schools.

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Photo credit: AFP/EyePress News
 

Emergency telecommunication infrastructure

As part of infrastructure development in disaster management, ITU has carried out various activities since 2006 to assist emergency telecommunication. For example, ITU has deployed hybrid communication systems for disaster relief in several countries. Also, ITU–D has assisted countries in all regions to design national emergency telecommunication plans and to draft standard operating procedures. This assistance has included work on preparedness, early warning, response, reconstruction, climate change adaptation, and designating an international numbering resource (888) for use by the United Nations in disaster relief.

In collaboration with various partners, ITU–D has organized a number of regional and global forums on emergency telecommunications. In December 2007, the “Global Forum on Effective Use of Telecommunications/ICT for Disaster Management: Saving Lives” brought together the main stakeholders active in developing, deploying and using ICT for disaster mitigation. During this event, a compendium of ITU’s work on emergency telecommunications was launched. This includes new recommendations on telecommunication facilities and spectrum that will allow relief workers to smoothly deploy telecommunication equipment and services. ITU also hosted a high-level session at the Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, held in 2008.

ITU–D organized a Central American Workshop on Disaster Management in El Salvador; and in Jamaica, in partnership with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, it organized a training workshop on disaster management to integrate emergency telecommunication plans into national disaster management plans.

Standardization

Having a high level of infrastructure is all well and good, but without standardization, the possibility of communication is severely limited.

Emergency contact information and numbers

In mid-2008, ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU–T) adopted an amendment to the existing recommendation on notation for national and international telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and web addresses, to enable contact information to be stored on mobile telephones for use in case of emergency. The amendment specifies an international, language-independent method that allows mobile phone users to designate their emergency contact persons, in their mobile phones, along with the telephone numbers of those persons (the next-of-kin or doctor to be contacted in case of an emergency).

ITU–T has also approved the Common Alerting Protocol, which allows alerts and emergency messages to be exchanged in a standardized way by a wide number of systems.

At the end of 2008, ITU–T adopted a new Recommendation on guidelines to select emergency numbers for public telecommunication networks. The purpose of this Recommendation is to facilitate the international harmonization of emergency numbers. In particular, it suggests that all countries implement codes 911 and 112, in addition to existing national emergency numbers.

Next-generation networks

ITU–T has continued to be at the forefront of providing global standards for telecommunications as a whole. The most important standardization activities concern NGN, with the approval of specific standards on signalling protocols for quality of service resource control, security, multimedia services over NGN, fixed-mobile convergence, service level requirements and an architectural framework to provide new services based on Internet Protocol television (IPTV). Charging and accounting principles for NGN (including related telecommunication economic and policy issues) continue to be studied at international and regional levels.

The Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB), alongside BDT and the Radiocommunication Bureau (BR), developed training materials to bridge the standardization gap and foster the implementation of NGN and broadband networks for developing countries. ITU also organized five Regional Development Forums with a focus on bridging the standardization gap.

ITU–T study groups also deal with subjects directly relevant to ICT infrastructure development, including: infrastructure and access networks; international Internet connectivity; security; internationalized domain names; multimedia services; quality of service; and accessibility.

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Photo credit: AFP/EUTELSAT
A computer-generated image of the European satellite KA-SAt of Eutelsat Communications successfully lifted into orbit by a Proton rocket on 26 December 2010

Accessibility

As part of its work on developing standards for telecommunications equipment, software and associated telecommunication services, ITU set up the Joint Coordination Activity on Accessibility and Human Factors, and published telecommunication accessibility guidelines and an accessibility checklist for the standards community to ensure that they take into account, at an early stage, the needs of those for whom access to ICT may be restricted.

Conformance and interoperability testing

To respond to concerns expressed by developing countries about interoperability, the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2008 adopted Resolution 76 on Conformance and Interoperability Testing to help increase probability of interoperability. A Joint Coordination Activity on Conformance and Interoperability Testing has been established, and a pilot conformity database (which lists and gives visibility to products that have been tested for conformity against ITU–T Recommendations) is under development. ITU organized five forums and various workshops in the regions on this topic.

The first interoperability event on IPTV was organized by ITU–T in July 2010 to address issues of conformance to ITU IPTV standards and interoperability of products. A second IPTV interoperability event was held in September in Singapore, and a third event is planned for December 2010 in India.

Radiocommunications

Meanwhile, ITU’s Radiocommunication Sector (ITU–R) has studied a range of topics related to ICT infrastructure, including: wireless Internet access, both via terrestrial and satellite broadband; emergency radiocommunications to support disaster prediction, detection, mitigation, and relief work; remote sensing systems for environmental control and for monitoring climate change; and digital broadcasting to help bridge the digital divide. In this regard, the Regional Radiocommunication Conference organized by ITU in 2006 (RRC-06) resulted in an international treaty for structured migration from analogue to digital broadcasting.

ITU–R has developed several Recommendations on Internet access, both terrestrial and satellite, that are especially relevant to building ICT infrastructure in developing countries. A package of international recommendations and standards for terrestrial and satellite digital broadcasting systems, and terrestrial and satellite interactive systems, has been developed relevant to emergency radiocommunications.

The World Radiocommunication Conference in 2007 (WRC-07) identified additional spectrum to meet the requirements for active and passive services for environment and climate control, and disaster prediction, detection and mitigation. WRC-07 also advocated the development of spectrum management guidelines for radiocommunications in emergency and disaster relief, as well as the identification and maintenance of available frequencies for use in the very early stages of humanitarian assistance.

ITU is developing a database for frequency management in disaster situations to assist its Member States in their emergency communication preparedness. The Radiocommunication Assembly, meeting just before WRC-07, recognized the importance of telecommunications and information techniques for disaster management, particularly in relation to disaster prediction, detection, mitigation and relief, and approved two new resolutions in this area.

Work ahead

To facilitate work, the WSIS outcomes described in the Geneva Plan of Action regarding Action Line C2 have been regrouped into the following eight thematic areas: national ICT policies; universal access policies; public service connectivity; broadband network infrastructure; special group inclusion; affordable ICT equipment; optimized connectivity; and traditional media inclusion. This regrouping is intended to improve communication and relevance to stakeholders, increase clarity in regard to ITU’s work, and act as a vehicle for resource mobilization.

Recommendations made in 2009 by the ITU Council Working Group on WSIS have led to the development of a comprehensive road map for Action Line C2, which will guide implementation until 2015. The road map offers detailed plans for achieving WSIS goals.

The road map is being integrated into the web portal, so that stakeholders will be able to provide feedback and updates. Meanwhile, feedback from a questionnaire sent to ITU Member States in early 2010 showed that progress in many of the thematic areas is on track. But the implementation of broadband infrastructure is trailing behind. This is why the ITU Secretary-General has made a great push in the area of broadband, notably with the establishment of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

ITU, as the sole moderator and facilitator for WSIS Action Line C2, supports and guides its Member States in confronting the challenges of building reliable information and communication infrastructure. Regional, sub-regional and international organizations are expected to assist developing countries in building their telecommunication and ICT infrastructure. The private sector and development banks are expected to play an active role in funding infrastructure projects through suitable financing mechanisms and public-private partnerships.

ITU encourages all stakeholders to make concerted efforts at national, regional and international levels in order to implement activities in support of WSIS Action Line C2 and to build the needed infrastructure. This is the only way that efforts can be collectively maximized to reach the broader WSIS goals.

 

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