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 Monday, August 18, 2008
ITU Secretary-General talks on the occasion of ITU TELECOM Asia 2008 about the new agenda of ITU

Since taking office in January 2007, Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré has set an ambitious new agenda for the ITU designed to help lead the way towards a more equitable and responsible ICT-based economy. A native of Mali whose long career in ICT spans senior private and public sector roles on three continents, Dr Touré seeks to get to grips with the changing realities of a brand new socio-economic paradigm.

Q:  Let's start with ITU's Global Cybersecurity Agenda. Why did ITU feel the need to launch this, and what does it hope to achieve?

A:   ITU recognized an urgent need to raise awareness about the very real threat already posed by cybercrime, and to build global consensus on practical ways forward in combating this scourge.

Cyberspace has no borders, no constraining frontiers. The global nature of today's threats means no country can regard itself as an island. This is therefore a truly international problem demanding action on an international level. ITU boasts a long and successful history of forging consensus on the way the world manages globally shared ICT resources - such as satellite orbits and radiofrequency spectrum. Now we're leveraging that track record to help build an international set of principles and best practice that countries around the world can follow, so that efforts to stamp out cybercrime have maximum impact and effectiveness.

The GCA's role is to link existing initiatives and provide a framework for consensus. We've already got lots of key organizations sharing ideas - INTERPOL with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, for example. Working together significantly increases our chances of success. And by involving global experts in the process from the beginning, we'll help make sure that the solutions decided upon get implemented properly.

Q:  Where are we in terms of progress on the Agenda?

A:   To ensure all countries and stakeholders had the chance to voice their views and concerns, ITU convened a High-Level Experts Group comprising a broad spectrum of representatives from government, international and regional organizations, private industry and academia. This global multi-stakeholder think-tank was tasked with preparing a strategic report and a set of recommendations on how to best achieve the seven strategic goals of the GCA, which span legislation, hardware and software authentication, digital identity certification, and international frameworks for proactive cooperation, as well as early warning on cyber threats.

The HLEG met on 26 June 2008 to submit its recommendations, and I'll be presenting these to ITU Council in November this year. So just over one year since launch, we're moving from talk to action. In the past three months alone we've seen a number of exciting developments, including new collaboration with IMPACT, the global initiative launched by Malaysian Prime Minister, which has offered to serve as one of the GCA physical homes; launch of the GCA Strategic Partnership Program to forge alliances with key stakeholders; mounting interest from leading ICT firms; and a second Patron from Africa - the President of Burkina Faso.

We still have a lot of complex work ahead of us, but with ITU's proven ability to broker effective, workable international agreements on a whole range of contentious issues - from emergency communications to third-generation mobile telephony - I'm quite confident we'll get there.

Q:  Child protection has emerged as one of the most urgent cybersecurity priorities. What's ITU position here?

A:   There's no doubt this needs to be one of the very first issues addressed. Today’s children are increasingly vulnerable - yet their parents, teachers, guardians and even governments are often unaware of the dangers.

We all tell our children to be careful out on the street. What many people haven’t realized is that, equipped with a computer, a child’s bedroom can suddenly become a very dangerous neighbourhood - and that their children are walking through that neighbourhood in the dark, alone. So the first step is to raise awareness at a parental, educational and social level. We need to urgently integrate cyber protection into our community education programmes, and into our school curricula.

At the same time, we need to work towards a harmonized international framework against child pornography and cybercriminals who target and prey on children. Without this framework, some countries will become unwilling hubs for illegal activities of the most undesirable kind - something no nation would want. Much good work has already been done by various agencies and organizations around the world. Through ITU, we can bring key stakeholders together to leverage the progress made so far and develop an internationally effective strategy to eradicate these activities.

To that end, we’ve just announced the creation of a multi-stakeholder coalition under the GCA framework to undertake concrete actions for the protection of children online. The Child Online Protection (COP) will be launched later this year, and will actively work with partners from industry, governments, international organizations and others to develop concrete actions for protecting children in cyber space.

I believe ITU, which is committed to connecting the world, also has a responsibility to help ensure that these connections are safe. At the same time, it’s vital that our initiatives do nothing to stifle or smother the enormous benefits the Internet can bring young people, both as a traditional educational resource and as a tool for peer to peer networking and learning.

Q:  You talk of ‘Connecting the World’ - and you held the highly successful ÂConnect Africa event in Rwanda last year. Can we expect to see more ‘Connect’ events - and which regions would be targeted next?

A:   We held the first Connect event in Africa because, as home to 36 of the 49 UN-designated Least Developed Countries, the African continent is still the most urgently in need. The unprecedented interest this event generated, including over US$ 55 billion in project commitments, is clear proof that the industry is now aggressively looking to developing markets for new opportunities. The next Connect event - Connect CIS - is already on the agenda, and will be held in Belarus in 2009. We’re confident that it will match the success of our first event, as participants take advantage of enormous untapped demand in fast-emerging markets across this exciting region.

We’ll be following that up with other Connect events for key world regions - Connect Americas, and Connect Asia - with a special focus as well on the small island states of the Pacific.

Q:  How do ITU Connect events differ from the many other ICT trade shows and conferences targeting regional markets?

A:   ICTs are the engine driving every other economic sector. And over the past five years, two thirds of all new jobs created have been in the ICT sector. In defining our Connect events, our motto has been ‘wealth creation, not poverty alleviation’. Unlike many events, we’re not focusing on the latest gizmos, but rather on ICT development through partnership - particularly constructive partnership between governments and the private sector. Regionally-focused events are very useful, because they can address common problems in areas like licensing, regulation and infrastructure sharing. In deciding the venue for future regional Connect events, we’ll be looking for strong commitments from host governments to forging local ICT markets that favour business opportunity and promote good, competitively-priced services.

Q:  In addition to Connect CIS, there’s another important event on the ITU horizon next year - the fourth World Telecommunication Policy Forum in Lisbon. What will this event focus on?

A:   With so much happening across the industry, we’ve chosen the broad theme of ‘Convergence’ to encompass a range of paradigm shifts. The event will look at new network technologies - for example, the standardization work now underway within ITU on Next Generation Networks and IMT-Advanced mobile technology. But we’ll also be looking at other important global issues, such as ICTs and climate change.

Q:  Climate change is a relatively new item on ITU’s work plan

A:   Yes, but in fact we’ve already been very active here for a number of years, through the development of technologies for environmental monitoring, through early warning systems to help communities mitigate the effects of the growing number of natural disasters provoked by global warming, and through technologies designed to minimize human impact on our environment.

I believe we can go much, much further, by helping industries across all sectors reduce their carbon footprint. Sure, as products that consume energy - through both their manufacture and their use - ICTs are part of the problem, accounting for around three per cent of global CO2 emissions. But they can also be a huge part of the solution - for example, by reducing the need for paper, by automatically switching both themselves and other electrical appliances to ‘sleep’ mode to cut energy consumption, by reducing the need for travel, and by more efficiently managing energy needs in our homes or in our cars.

Following two international Symposia on ICTs and Climate Change held earlier this year, the important role of ICTs in mitigating climate change was addressed at the G8 meeting in Lake Toya in July. ITU will continue to proactively work towards even better technological solutions to reducing our carbon footprint, through standardization efforts in areas like NGN, where new technologies can dramatically reduce the power consumption of network infrastructure, and through special areas of focus like the Networked Home and the Networked Car. We’re also stepping up our work in the area of emergency communications, to help communities deal with the often catastrophic effects of a shift in climate patterns.

Q:  ITU took the lead back in 1998 in brokering the Tampere Convention on the cross-border use of mobile communications for humanitarian relief. What other activities are you involved in?

A:   The Tampere Convention was a major landmark in emergency response, and has now been ratified by 36 nations. This is a priority area for us, and we’re partnering with a wide range of public and private sector organizations across a range of different areas.

Following the Asian tsunami in 2004, we’ve been working with the Australian government and others on developing early-warning technology for maritime disasters. The most recent World Radiocommunication Conference here in Geneva last year approved new key spectrum allocations for environmental monitoring and disaster mitigation.

And we’re active on the ground, providing communications equipment for disaster relief, and technical expertise to help authorities get backbone links up again quickly after a disaster.

During the course of 2008 alone, we’ve deployed 100 satellite terminals for emergency relief in Myanmar - we were one of the very few agencies authorized to enter - and in Sichuan, China, following the earthquake there. We also have excellent partnerships with most of the major satellite service providers, such as ICO and Inmarsat, with equipment vendors like Thuraya, and with specialist relief organizations like Télécoms Sans Frontières.

More, however, still needs to be done. That’s why we developed a new international framework that was put in place in December 2007. This framework focuses on putting in place national and international disaster prevention and response agreements that can serve as the basis of relief efforts in the event of a catastrophe. When disaster strikes, no-one should be wasting time brokering deals. And no-one should be arguing as to who might get credit for the rescue and clean-up. All our efforts must be directed to helping the victims - as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

Q:  What can we expect to see at the industry’s flagship trade show, ITU Telecom Asia 2008 in Thailand in September?

A:   With Asia now leading the world in technological innovation, there are always plenty of surprises! I’m sure we’ll see much to excite us on the show floor from major global players and rising Asian stars. As to the Forum programme, we can expect plenty of healthy debate. The new, more interactive format we piloted at our Cairo event in May was very well received, so we’ll be reinforcing that model in Bangkok. I believe ‘from friction comes light’ - so we’ll be aiming to provoke a few clashes of opinion from industry leadersÂ…

Asia is a fascinating region because it encompasses both ends of the ICT development spectrum. It’s home to the most wired, most technophile communities in the world. And it’s also home to LDCs and marginalized island states. That makes it a great test bed for new ideas, new technologies - and exciting new applications.

Q:  The theme for this year’s ITU Telecom event is New Generation, New Values. What does this mean, in practice?

A:   We chose this theme because, quite simply, no region of the world embraces ICTs like Asia. Entire generations now define themselves through technology. That’s a huge force for innovation, as manufacturers and service providers alike clamber to make the most of the opportunities by devising compelling new products and services designed to capture the consumer imagination - and wallet. In other countries, technology tends to be applied as a tool, to meet user needs. In Asia, it’s already very much a lifestyle.

Q:  So Asia’s really shaping today’s market developments, setting the tone and pace of trends?

A:   There’s no doubt that this is true in areas like mobile and broadband. Asia spans some of the most sophisticated markets with the highest levels of ICT penetration and growth in the world. China and India are the world’s largest and fastest growing markets, with mobile subscribers alone totalling over 600 million and 280 million respectively by mid-2008. The Republic of Korea leads the world with close to 80% of households connected to broadband. Both Singapore and Hong Kong, China are not far behind, with 70%. That’s why ITU Telecom Asia has always served as a bellwether for the industry - it not only opens doors to some of the biggest opportunities for exhibitors, but provides a crucial snapshot of where the industry’s heading in terms of technologies, applications and new business models.

That’s particularly important in Asia, which remains a region of stark contrasts. While some countries now boast excess broadband capacity, others - particularly geographically isolated nations like Small Island States - are still struggling to get their populations connected. New technologies will help. The next Connect Asia Summit that ITU is organizing with other partners will be a key milestone in setting the strategies at regional level. Discussions during Asia 2008 with business and political leaders will be timely for achieving the expected results.