Speech from Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General

ITU Sub-Regional Seminar and Ministerial Round Table for CEE - Welcome Address
Belgrade, Republic of Serbia
27 April 2009

Excellencies, Distinguished colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed a great pleasure to welcome you to this important event for ICT development across Central and Eastern Europe – and to have such a high-level attendance here today.


This is particularly encouraging, as I have just returned from Portugal, where ITU held its fourth World Telecommunication Policy Forum last week. The WTPF brought together representatives of 124 Member States to focus on the future policy direction for the industry – which will guide future regulatory and standardization efforts worldwide.


This is highly-relevant to our meeting here in Belgrade, as the ICT industry is not just a rapidly evolving sector in its own right. It is also the engine driving the rapid evolution of a host of other industries.


As it does so, it creates exciting new products, new services, and new paradigms for information access and content distribution. Not surprisingly, it is also creating major new regulatory challenges for government, and business challenges for the private sector.


Around the world, we are now witnessing the steady transition from analogue terrestrial broadcasting to new digital platforms. Europe is already well advanced along this path, with several EU Member States already having made the definitive switchover to digital, and the remainder set to do so by the European Commission’s target date of 2012.


The advantages are manifold.


Digital broadcasting allows more channels to be carried across fewer airwaves than analogue. This digital dividend will help create new distribution networks, drive technological convergence, and expand the potential for wireless innovation and services.


The flexibility offered by digital terrestrial broadcasting supports the mobile reception of video, internet and multimedia data, making applications, services and information accessible and usable anywhere, and at any time.


It also opens the door to new innovations such as Handheld TV Broadcast and HDTV, while at the same time providing greater bandwidth to existing mobile, fixed and radio-navigation services.


The landmark decisions reached at RRC-06, embodied in the GE06 Regional Agreement and backed by the subsequent work of WRC-07, will create a level playing field that will serve as a new basis for competition.


These decisions, which were developed cooperatively by the 104 nations attending RRC-06, support the ongoing systematic development of digital broadcasting. They also incorporate the flexibility that will ensure future plans can be adapted quickly in response to a fast-changing ICT environment.


Equally importantly, they will allow us to fully capitalize on the potential of ICTs to help achieve internationally-recognized development targets, such as the Millennium Development Goals.


But with the many benefits come some problems. We know that, as EU Member States progressively introduce digital technology, serious issues of interference with analogue services in neighbouring countries can emerge.


This is particularly true in border zones, where digital signals from one country can compromise the integrity and quality of analogue transmissions in another.


We also know that while countries outside the Eurozone are enthusiastic about the potential of digital, they also face constraints of legacy technologies and regulatory red tape which can hinder their transition to this new platform.


In convening this important event, ITU seeks to promote a stronger, and more proactive and collaborative approach to resolving the challenges ahead. As we enter a new broadcasting age, we must establish new best practice principles and actively foster the regional and global harmonization of technical, regulatory and economic issues.


We also need to identify the key enablers of transition from analogue to digital, so that we can assist governments and regulators as they prepare for switchover, and help industry build a strong business case for the move in the face of depressed markets hit hard by the global economic crisis.


I would like to state firmly this morning that ITU is committed to extending its focus well beyond Brussels to more actively address the needs of ITU members outside the Eurozone – and especially when these members are impacted by EU developments.


I trust that this week’s meeting therefore marks the beginning of a new, closer collaborative process between all countries of the region.


In the coming months and years, ITU will strive to leverage the successes and experience of those who have already made the switchover; to actively develop technical and regulatory best practice benchmarks; and to bring our own expertise to bear to assist our members in areas such as spectrum planning and quality of service.


Since we all share the same goals, the same concerns, and the same desire for success, I have no doubt that, together, we will be able to move ahead much faster than if we worked alone.


ITU looks forward to working in partnership with you, as together we usher in a brand new digital age, which I have no doubt will bring new benefits, and new prosperity, to the entire region.


In closing, I would like to draw attention to the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day which takes place in just a few weeks, on 17 May.


The theme this year, which forms part of a year-long campaign in conjunction with Interpol and many other organizations, is ‘Protecting Children Online’.


And I would therefore like to say a special word of thanks to Serbia, our hosts for this meeting, for being one of the first countries to launch a national programme in line with ITU’s Child Online Protection initiative.


Thank you.