Speech from Mr Houlin Zhao, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

Joint Facilitation Meeting on the Action Line C2, C4, and C6
Geneva, Switzerland
19 May 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this Joint Facilitation Meeting on the Action Lines C2, C4, and C6. This meeting is of particular significance to me for two reasons:

  • It is already third time that we are getting together to look for synergies between the different Action Lines and recognizing strong inter-linkages between these actions;
  • Secondly, we are going to discuss the impact of initiatives that have the potential to make a significant difference in the future; like for instance Connect Africa Summit, the first of the events within the framework of the ITU Connect the World series.

The ITU is committed to connecting the world and one of our main missions is to enable evolution of telecommunications and information networks around the world, so that everywhere, people can actively participate in the global information society. That is why it is not surprising that ITU whose mandate is to extend the benefits of ICTs to all of the world’s inhabitants, took the leading role in organizing the key event of this decade - the World Summit on the Information Society held in two phases - in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005.

As we all know, at the Summit the ICT leaders from all over the world made commitments compiled in the Geneva Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action, setting out a vision for the future development of the information society and the Tunis Commitment and Tunis Agenda for the Information Society as a clear basis for implementation. The world leaders also agreed on a set of targets that include connecting all villages, towns and cities of the world by 2015. They also recognized the role of ICT in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which range from halving extreme poverty to putting all children into primary school and improving literacy and health care, promoting gender equality and ensuring environmental sustainability - all by 2015.

Now, we have only seven years left to meet the Millennium Development Goals target date of 2015, but ITU is even more ambitious in aiming to connect the unconnected by 2012. We know that we cannot meet this challenge alone and we count on all WSIS stakeholders to join in bringing together the necessary forces to make this goal a reality.

Since the Tunis Phase of WSIS, much progress has been already made. Many initiatives, actions, projects have been launched since 2005, bringing tangible effects in terms of the connectivity, enabling environment, capacity building, ICT applications and cybersecurity.

Just released, the new edition of the WSIS Stocktaking Report 2008, draws attention to some of the flagship initiatives, which prove that the commitments made by the governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector in 2005 in Tunis are followed by continuously increasing dedication to the work on building an inclusive Information Society as well as achieving the WSIS as well as Millennium Development Goals.

One of the best examples showing the extent of the commitment is the Connect Africa Summit, the first of the ITU’s Connect the World series, held in Kigali last year. The willingness to invest in the telecommunication markets of the developing world was clearly demonstrated at the Summit, with 55 billion dollars committed to developing ICT infrastructure on the African continent.

Nevertheless, digital divide, even though gradually diminishing, still remains problematic for many countries. It is very likely that without help of the international community and big impact initiatives many of these countries may not be able to catch up.

The ITU, a specialized UN agency as well as the facilitator of the WSIS Action Line C2, according to its available resources, takes numerous actions directed towards the development of information and communication infrastructure. However, with time this task becomes more and more complex. Particularly in low-income countries well synchronized actions focusing on technology, business, regulation and public policy are required. Through this meeting, we have an excellent opportunity to brainstorm on the necessity of regional, sub-regional or global actions keeping in mind the interests of the various stakeholders involved. The activities aiming at the promotion of ICT Strategies, fostering harmonization of the ICT policies in the different regions; supporting the development of regional and large-scale national initiatives, addressing global thematic ICT infrastructure initiatives, or searching financial mechanisms and resources, may have real impact.

The high innovation dynamics of the ICT sector has the potential to provide new technical solutions for bridging the digital divide. In many cases these new technologies may become affordable to implement. However, in order to achieve real impact, the question of self-sustainability of infrastructure projects needs to be clearly addressed.

The three-layer convergence process, i.e. fixed/mobile, data/voice, telecoms/broadcasting/internet, enforced through rapid migration to the IP environment, changes not only the dimensions of the ICT sector, but also business paradigms, regulatory environments and customer preferences. This trend is relevant for all countries. As the next generation networks become pervasive, we have a strong belief that the related innovation dynamics involved with these technologies may help developing countries leapfrog.

Nevertheless the policy makers, regulators, or users groups around the globe have to seriously tackle how to best promote the public interest in a converged IP-enabled communications environment, as the traditional concept of universal service is changing. This year, the ITU Global Symposium of Regulators, a unique platform, where regulators can share their experiences, exchange best practices and enter into a frank dialogue, was exploring how regulatory reform can reduce the high investment costs associated with the deployment of new technologies. With the theme, Six Degrees of Sharing, the GSR examined a range of sharing strategies designed to cut the costs of network rollout, and each one has a role to play in ensuring that countries meet their development millennium goals by 2015. And I have to admit that I am happy that during this meeting, once again we will have the occasion to continue discussing this subject.

Sharing of views, experiences and best practices among all WSIS stakeholders is a good way to address the challenges posed by today’s technological and market developments. It is only by working together that smart policies and practices can be put into place to ensure that the target of connecting the world to ICT within the next seven years can be met. Connecting the world means that the benefits of the Information Society are shared by all.

Having said all that I am ensuring you that the ITU is committed to connecting the world and will continue to work to mobilize the technical, financial and human resources needed to make the global information society a reality. Closing my speech I would like to address two important issues in addition, namely universal access and human capacity issues.

  • First, we all may agree that the key component of the information society is universal access. I strongly believe that everyone must have equal right and the opportunity to participate in the digital age. And no one should be denied the potential benefits of new information and communication technologies (ICT), not least because they are hampered by their disabilities. As ICT bring a range of innovations in the workplace, at home and in every facet of our lives, these benefits must also be harnessed for the benefit of persons with disabilities. On 15/17 May 2008 we were celebrating the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, with this year’s theme of “Connecting People with Disabilities: ICT Opportunities for All”. In our mission to connect the world we must make sure that no one is left out.
  • Second, for the success of development projects and, in particular, in bridging the digital divide, it is necessary to recognize the central role of human capacity building. For this reason, human capacity-building issues need to be incorporated as an integral component of national and regional projects that support the development of infrastructure and ICT applications projects, and they need some reflections during debates as we will have during this meeting.

The ITU, having recognized this strong relationship between human capacity building, infrastructure and enabling environment, carries out a number of projects of national, regional and global character, like for instance the Global Centre of Excellence Project, the Internet Training Centre Initiative and the Global Human Capacity Building Initiative. ITU, also in collaboration with the high level HR specialists, tries to find the best ways of managing and developing Human Capital within the context of the challenges facing the ICT sector today. The upcoming Global Symposium for Human Capacity Development 2008, to be held from the 21st to 25th July 2008, in Coventry, United Kingdom is one of the unique places. I hope that many of you will be joining us there.

I am fully confident that the matters that we shall discuss during these three up-coming days will help bring forward the actions undertaken by the Action Line facilitation groups. I also strongly believe that it will encourage many stakeholders, present here as well as being with us virtually, to join forces to bridge the digital divide. Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your kind attention and I wish you fruitful discussions.