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Opening remarks by Mr Anthony S.K. Wong
Chairman of the World Telecommunication Policy Forum
World Telecommunication Policy Forum 2001
7 March 2001

Mr Utsumi, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour to be elected as the Chairman of this Forum.

The World Telecommunication Policy Forum 2001 provides an excellent opportunity for ITU Member States and Sector Members to exchange opinions on the important issue of IP Telephony. With the continued advancement of Internet Protocol technology, IP Telephony plays an increasingly significant role in transmitting voice communications, prompting issues on many aspects: technical, economic, regulatory, human resources. It is time that developed and developing countries, regulators and operators alike came together and discussed these issues, achieving understanding or even consensus where possible, and narrowing down differences where views are diverged, in order to prepare ourselves for this new age of communications.

IP Telephony is not only an emerging but also an inevitable trend that voice communications will head. Countries that hold a sceptical view towards IP Telephony should rather take an open-minded approach and recognise the positive impact that IP Telephony has on the roll-out of telecommunications infrastructure, and find ways to deal with the difficulties that it may bring about pragmatically. To reject the idea outright would only result in the widening of the digital divide. And I do hope that the Forum could be convened under such an open-minded atmosphere.

The Secretary-Generalĺs report on IP Telephony provides a comprehensive and balanced analysis of the issues relating to IP Telephony. There are the technical issues, like how the IP networks can be integrated with the traditional circuit-switched networks to provide seamless voice traffic. There are the economic issues, like the economic impact of IP Telephony on the consumers, operators and countries. There are the policy issues: like whether, and if so, how IP Telephony should be regulated. There are also the human resources issues: like how the countries and operators can share the IP knowledge.

In preparation for this Policy Forum, an Informal Group of Experts has also prepared three draft opinions for consideration by the participants of this Forum. The three draft opinions reflect closely the aims and objectives set by the Council for the Policy Forum. They relate respectively to the general implications of IP Telephony for the ITU members, the actions to assist members in adapting to the changes brought about by IP Telephony, and the actions to assist members in meeting the human resource development challenges.

To cover such an important topic with so many diverse issues within three days presents a challenge to me as chair of the Forum. I very much hope that, in the coming three days, time can be best managed to make the meeting a useful and constructive one to all the participants attending. I would therefore urge all of you to work with me and take a broad, macro-approach in our discussions and to concentrate on the principal policy-related issues, leaving the details, and the more specific or technical issues, to designated ITU study groups, where they have the expertise to explore the matters much more precisely. We should try to avoid getting carried away in focusing on one tree, and lose sight of the much bigger forest.

I think you will agree with me that IP Telephony, and indeed IP technology as a whole is only in its infancy but is fast developing. What we can do today in this Forum will only be a beginning to a very important process. With your help, I hope that by the time the Forum closes, we could all leave here with a better understanding of the issues in IP Telephony and more generally how this technology could benefit the people of our countries. And from there, we shall carry on to close the digital divide.

Thank you.

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