Plenipotentiary Conference 1998 -- Minneapolis USA

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Briefing Notes 1 of 12 October
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US Vice-President Gore inaugurates the 15th Plenipotentiary Conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center with major policy statement

The 15th Plenipotentiary Conference was inaugurated by US Vice-President Albert Gore in Minneapolis today. "Four years ago, I asked you to help create a global information superhighway. Today, I thank you for what you have done to bring about the most stunning revolution the world has known and I challenge you to build on this unprecedented opportunity by putting these new global networks to work helping people", said Mr Gore to an audience of over 1000 delegates from around the world. In his address, the Vice-President proposed five new challenges which he characterized as a Declaration of Interdependence.

"First", he said, "we must improve access to technology so that everyone on the planet is within walking distance of voice and data telecommunications service within the next decade".

"Secondly", he added, "we must overcome our language barriers and develop technology with real-time digital translation so anyone on the planet can talk to anyone else".

"Third, we must create a "Global Knowledge Network" of people who are working to improve the delivery of education, health care, agricultural resources and sustainable development, and to ensure public safety".

"Fourth", Vice President Gore challenged, "we must use communications technology to ensure the free flow of ideas and support democracy and free speech" and

"Fifth, we must use communication technology to expand economic opportunity to all; families and communities around the globe."

Gore also warned that the "Year 2000 computer problem" could "stall much of our progress in international communications" if not solved in time. "Let us meet the Year 2000 challenge together so we can begin the 21st century with confidence and without computer problems". He pledged the help of US ambassadors around the world to work with all countries in providing any technical assistance they needed." "Together, we must solve this problem" he added. "In concluding his statement, Mr Gore recalled that the today the road of discovery is a highway of light and speed to connect the largest city to the smallest village across the globe. "In a world once limited by borders and geography" he concluded "the only limits we face today are the borders of our imagination". The full text of Mr Gore’s address can be found on the Web here

Taking the floor on behalf of the State of Minnesota, Governor Arne Carlson spoke of the "enormous gap" between the have and have-not nations, and said he felt that global sharing of information technology and access to telecommunications could help produce a more peaceful world by facilitating communications among nations.

Carlson also spoke of the potential for improving health care, education and other areas through improved telecommunications, and said this, too, could contribute to a more stable world.

He said the world would "truly become one" if all the potential benefits of telecommunications could be harnessed for the benefit of mankind.

In his inaugural address, ITU Secretary-General, Pekka Tarjanne singled out the new generation of satellite systems known as the Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite" or GMPCS as the best illustration of modern "technological imagination. "The implementation of GMPCS is of enormous symbolic importance", he stated. "It means that the members of the ITU have succeeded in establishing the technological basis for achieving the goal of universal access to basic telecommunications which was established in 1984 by the Independent Commission for Worldwide Telecommunication Development – otherwise known after its chairman as the Maitland Commission" he added. He said that with GMPCS in place, we were perhaps 90% of the way there but also cautioned that although GMPCS and many other developments are providing the technological basis for universal access to basic communications and to information services – what he likes to call "the right to communicate" – the real work was only beginning.

He recalled the role played by the ITU in providing sufficient spectrum to allow these services to operate, in agreeing on the technical standards that will interconnect and interoperate GMPCS with other telecommunications networks in the seamless, transparent fashion that customers demand and in forging partnerships for development of telecommunication networks, services and applications between developing markets and GMPCS operators and in brokering the agreement for users to roam freely across borders with their GMPCS terminals and use these services in countries where they are authorized. He however warned that delegates not to be complacent. "With the technological problems solved, our challenge now is to ensure that access is affordable, and that applications are available to support the full range of human development needs – whether these needs are individual, social, cultural, political or environmental" he stated.

Other speakers on the programme were Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and US Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota.

Earlier in the morning, the Conference elected Ambassador Thomas Siebert as Chairman of the Conference. His main role will be to keep the Conference on track and act as a "backroom" negotiator to bring diverse views to a compromise. Most decisions taken at the Conference are expected to be taken by consensus. Ambassador Siebert brings with him a solid experience in soft diplomacy and in tough negotiations, having been both US Ambassador to Sweden and a telecoms attorney specializing in practice before the Federal Communications Commission in the area of new technologies and in particular in the exploding sector of mobile communications and convergence.

The Conference also elected the Vice-Chairmen of the Conference and the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of the seven Conference committees as follows. The mandates of each committee can be found in the press kit or in the PP98 newsroom:

Vice-Chairmen of the Conference:
H.E. Mr Mahamoudou. Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso)
Mr Andres Culagovski (Chile)
Ms Irene Albers (The Netherlands)
Mr Alexander Krupnov (Russia)
Mr Sami El-Basheer, (Saudi Arabia)
Mr Mahidol Chantrangkurn (Thailand)
Committee 1 – Steering Committee Committee 2 – Credentials
It is composed of the Chairman and Vice-chairmen of the Conference and of the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of the other committees Chairperson: Ms Kathleen Heceta (Philippines)
Vice-Chairperson: Mr Yury Akimov (Belarus)
Committee 3 – Budget Control Committee 4 – Editorial Committee
Chairperson: Mr Andrei Untila (Moldova)
Vice-Chairperson: Mr Ralph Everett (U.S.)
Chairperson: Mr Lucien Bourgeat (France)
Vice-Chairpersons: Mr Malcolm Johnson (U.K.) and Mr Vincente Rubio Carreton (Spain)
Committee 5 – Strategic Policy and Plans Committee 6 – Constitution and Convention
Chairperson: Mauricio Bossa (Argentina)
Vice-Chairpersons: Ms Mette Konner (Denmark)and Ms Valerie D’Costa (Singapore)
Chairperson: Mr Abderrazak Berrada (Morocco)
Vice-Chairpersons: Ms Salma Jalife (Mexico) and Mr Hugh Railton (New Zealand)
Committee 7 – Management of the Union    
Chairperson: Mr Ulrich Mohr (Germany)
Vice-Chairpersons: Mr Adolar Mapunda (Tanzania) and Mr Bruce Gracie (Canada)

The Plenipotentiary Conference is the ITU key event at which all Member States of the ITU decide on the future role of the organization, thereby determining ITU’s ability to shape the telecoms sector for the benefit of businesses and consumers worldwide. The ITU is a driving force in brokering international agreements on technical and policy issues affecting the global telecoms industry valued at US$1 trillion per year, in areas such as the Internet, mobile telephony, satellite systems or electronic commerce. Most issues to be tackled by the 1998 Plenipotentiary Conference will evolve around two central themes: the future of the ITU and efforts to reform the Union to adapt to the modern environment on the one hand and the role of the ITU and of the Conference in shaping the future of the telecommunications industry.n

Briefing notes: => Next

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