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Summary Report to Plenary: Strategic Dialogue on ICTs
Mr. Matthias Kurth, Chairman of the European Regulators Group for electronic communications networks and services, and President of the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) of Germany

 

The World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF) 2009 began with a Strategic Dialogue on ICTs: Confronting the Crisis, held on 21 April 2009. The Strategic Dialogue brought together industry leaders, policy-makers and governments to discuss proactive strategies of stimulating economic recovery. H.E. Mr. Mario Lino, Minister of Public Works, Transport and Communications of the Government of the Portuguese Republic opened the Strategic Dialogue and welcomed participants on behalf of the Portuguese Government. He noted the honour, interest and satisfaction with which the Portuguese Government is hosting WTPF 2009 and congratulated ITU on its initiative in convening the Strategic Dialogue.
 
H.E. Mr. Mario Lino emphasized the commitment of the Portuguese Government to executing Portugal’s Technological Plan to speed up the development of the information society. Portugal prioritizes investment in New Generation Networks and innovative infrastructures as one means of overcoming the crisis, in harmony with the European Economic Recovery Plan. This will allow the Portuguese Government to meet the needs of its citizens and business, resulting in new behavioural patterns and business models for public procurement, electronic invoicing and the Citizens’ Portal. H.E. the Minister also presented Portugal’s e-school programme and Magellan initiative. 1.1 million students registered in this programme (over one tenth of Portugal’s population), of whom over 800,000 have already received computers.
 
Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré, Secretary-General of the ITU, welcomed participants to the Strategic Dialogue and thanked the Portuguese Administration for their warm welcome and unfailing support. He noted that financial crisis and global economic slowdown are challenging the fabric of global finance and testing governments and international institutions. He observed that the crisis is challenging many businesses, but it will also give birth to new institutions, revitalize communications, and enable new entrants and technologies to emerge.
 
Dr. Touré emphasized the UN’s role as a unique forum where developing countries can play their part in debating and defining post-crisis scenarios, with the recent Chief Executives Board meeting in Paris. He drew attention to ITU’s role in facilitating meaningful dialogue on the crisis, with many key stakeholders present at WTPF and consensus as a key hallmark of ITU. Dr. Touré expressed his optimism in the outlook for the ICT industry and his belief that the industry can carry the torch forward and contribute to leading the world out of the crisis.

Session One asked whether this crisis is any different to previous economic recessions. Panellists noted weakness in a range of macroeconomic indicators. The latest economic projections from the OECD foresee recovery beginning in 2010. The crisis may be distinguished from previous crises by a domino effect, whereby the crisis has propagated to many countries to become the first truly global crisis. Panellists highlighted the importance of creativity and innovation in driving economic growth. They agreed that ICTs are an important part of any stimulus package, as a strategically important sector.

The need to be wise with government spending was emphasized, as was the need to invest in new technologies of the future, rather than protecting the past. Some panellists suggested that governments could create an enabling environment for investment, rather than provide funds. Some panellists suggested that existing systems of global governance are failing, and called for a re-examination of our institutions and for Bretton Woods 2.0. Old models are becoming redundant (for example, in newspaper industry, record industry and research), and we are developing new business models. Repeated calls were made for a Digital Marshall Plan to kickstart recovery and economic growth, a call first made at the ITU Kigali Summit in October 2007. Such a Plan should extend beyond the duration of the present financial crisis.

The second Session investigated how investment and financing can help overcome the crisis. Panellists noted that while investors may be more cautious, they will still invest in worthwhile business models. There are opportunities for innovation and improved services, especially in emerging markets. A number of panellists acknowledged a role for government investing in infrastructure. They examined the role of public-private partnerships and emphasized the need for cooperation to address the crisis. Panellists also noted the substantial investments going ahead in some countries, despite the crisis – or, in the case of stimulus packages – in response to the crisis. They noted that, after restructuring during the dot.com crisis, the telecom sector is now more resilient than other sectors.
 
The third session on telco strategies asked how astute operators and telcos are navigating these uncertain times yielding fresh opportunities. Participants reviewed recent regulatory developments, and suggested that calls for more or less regulation should be replaced by calls for better, more appropriate regulation. Operators noted that they are not immune, with pressure on margins in heavy and rapid price reductions, but slower reductions in cost base. Operators distinguished between mature and emerging voice markets in terms of profit margins, data usage and investment. One operator responded that it is moving from a focus on technology to a focus on customers, with rewards for loyalty.
 
Session Four listened to the experience of industry. Panellists emphasized that it was not a case of picking winning technologies among competing technologies - economies of scale are needed to boost affordability and low-cost devices, irrespective of technology. End-users do not care about the background technologies either - multiple capabilities must be combined into a seamless end-user experience invisible to end-users to grow the market. The finite resource of spectrum must be used more intelligently. The potential of the satellite industry in providing connectivity to large and remote areas was also acknowledged, with growth continuing unabated by the crisis.
 
Additionally, panellists acknowledged the role of technology in including people with special needs in the information society and in monitoring climate change.
 
The Portuguese Government and ITU are delighted that four panels of such distinguished participants were able to join us to offer their rich insights into the impact of the financial crisis on ICT markets, based on their experience and knowledge of the markets, ICT policy and investment.