ITU: Committed to Connecting the World - seven billion actions
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Responsibility of institutions in a world of 7 billion

23 September 2011 - Founded in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, ITU is the world’s oldest intergovernmental organization. Then as now, it was recognized that international cooperation was essential to manage global communications resources for the benefit of all. Today, the ITU allocates global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, develops the technical standards that ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and strives to improve access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) to underserved communities worldwide. And, uniquely among United Nations agencies, in addition to its 192 Member States, ITU membership includes ICT regulators, leading academic institutions and some 700 private companies.

Virtually every facet of modern life – in business, culture or entertainment, at work and at home – depends on ICTs. They help manage and control emergency services, water supplies, power networks and food distribution chains. They support health care, education, government services, financial markets, transportation systems and environmental management. And they allow people to communicate with colleagues, friends and family any time, and almost everywhere.

ITU is committed to connecting all the world’s people, wherever they live and whatever their means. In the midst of rapid technological developments, evolving national and international policies, and the many diverse interests of commercial businesses, ITU has an overriding responsibility to safeguard everyone’s fundamental right to communicate.

  • Phone calls: ITU standards, protocols and international agreements are the essential elements underpinning the global telecommunication system.

  • Satellites: ITU coordinates the world’s satellites through the management of spectrum and orbits, bringing people television, vehicle GPS navigation, maritime and aeronautical communications, weather information and online maps, and enabling communications in even the most remote parts of the planet.

  • Mobile communications: ITU forges the technical standards and policy frameworks that are powering the mobile revolution.

  • Internet: ITU makes Internet access possible. The majority of Internet connections are facilitated by ITU standards.

  • Innovation: ITU works with industry to define the new technologies that will support tomorrow’s networks and services.

  • Accessibility: ITU helps build an inclusive information society and improve quality of life through strategies ranging from the rights of the disabled, to making technical design standards accessible, to providing education and training on accessible ICT.

  • Disasters and emergencies: ITU helps support communications in the wake of disasters and emergencies through on-the-ground assistance, dedicated emergency communications channels, technical standards for early warning systems, and practical help in rebuilding communications networks after a catastrophe.

  • Empowerment: ITU empowers people around the world through technology education and training.

  • Universality: ITU works with public and private sector partners to ensure that ICT access and services are affordable, equitable and universal.

The growing role for ICTs holds great promise, including the potential to lift people out of poverty. But it also poses serious challenges for ITU and its members. Breakthroughs in communications bring not only benefits but also new dangers, including threats to privacy and security. Global cooperative agreements have never been more necessary, yet at the same time, the sheer speed of development makes this more difficult. ITU’s task is to ensure that people around the world can communicate with each other in an efficient, safe, easy and affordable manner, and to be proactive about what the world might need in the future. This means taking the lead in areas such as ensuring security in cyberspace, the efficient use of radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, encouraging infrastructure development to bridge the digital divide, the use of ICTs to mitigate climate change, and the establishment of workable standards to provide global telecommunications for everyone, including the disabled and disadvantaged.

Although the phenomenal growth of mobile telephony in the developing world has transformed access to basic connectivity, the digital divide remains enormous. An estimated 10 per cent of the world’s population is still unable to make a simple telephone call. In addition, while over a quarter of the population now uses the Internet, in the very poorest countries that proportion is less than 2 per cent and the gulf in access to broadband networks is even greater.

With most of the world’s new citizens living in developing countries, ITU has a special responsibility to promote measures that bring everyone within reach of the benefits ICTs can provide to combat poverty and enhance opportunity. ITU’s ‘Connect the World’ campaign aims to narrow the digital divide by connecting all communities by 2015, the target date set by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and giving half the world’s population access to broadband services. And in 2010 ITU, together with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development to accelerate the expansion of broadband networks across the globe.

Besides their direct economic benefits, perhaps the greatest contribution of ICTs to global wellbeing is to empower people by giving them both access to knowledge and a voice in the public arena. In a world of 7 billion people ITU will be working to ensure that all have a say in determining our common future.

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The 7 Billiion Actions initiative is convened by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund with support from partners from the private and public sector.