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 Address to the ICANN – UNESCO – ITU Thematic Workshop, 2nd Internet Governance Forum
 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  13 November 2007 

Towards international standards for a truly multilingual global Internet

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and a pleasure for me to speak here today on behalf of the Telecommunication Standardization Sector of the ITU and its membership.

This thematic workshop, and in the one which follows immediately after it in this room on the topic of “Making accessibility a reality in emerging technologies” is discussing two of the major barriers to a truly inclusive Information Society. With the tools that we have available, neither linguistic diversity nor disability should be insurmountable. But both require sensitivity to the needs of others, awareness-raising and understanding. In both cases, one of the keys to making progress is further work in standardization.

During the Geneva phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), world leaders were unanimous in making a commitment to encourage the development of content and to put in place technical conditions in order to facilitate the presence and use of all the world’s languages on the Internet by 2015.

Realistically, it is not likely that all the world’s 6’000 or so languages and dialects will ever be available on the Internet. Many of them do not exist in written form and, sadly, languages are disappearing at a faster rate than they are being transferred to the Internet.

However, it is certainly possible, as the WSIS commitment says, to put in place the “technical conditions” to facilitate multilingualism in cyberspace by making all of the world’s scripts available online, if not all of the world’s languages. Standardization work in this domain relates mainly to the development of UNICODE, which is standardized by the Unicode Consortium and ITU’s sister organization, the International Standardization Organisation and which now covers more than 100’000 characters. ITU works closely with ISO and IEC as part of the World Standards Collaboration (WSC) and in Joint Technical Committee 1.

ITU’s own contribution includes the development of the International Reference Alphabet (IRA), defined in ITU-T Recommendation T.50, which sets out a 7-bit coded character set, with regional/national options, for information exchange among international data processing and communications systems. Other ITU-T Recommendations, such as T.52, provide equivalent coded character sets for non-Latin scripts.

ITU-T’s ongoing work in this field includes the work of Study Group 17, on internationalized domain names (IDN). Work so far has included a survey of the needs and experiences of the membership with regard to IDN and an assessment of the standardization requirements in this area. Other ITU-T work relates to the standardization of speech processing technologies for use with Internet applications to overcome the problem of languages with little written content, as well as assisting those with disabilities.

We are particularly keen to establish close working relationships with those other organizations active in this field, including UNESCO, ISO, IETF, ICANN and regional bodies. That is why jointly-organized workshops, such as this one, are so important.

In addition to standardization work, ITU can also offer assistance in other areas, such as capacity-building, policy development and IDN deployment. ITU’s mandate for this work is given in WTSA Resolution 48 and Plenipotentiary Resolution 133. Activities in this field include the following:
  • A joint symposium on multilingual domain names held with WIPO;
  • Regional workshops on IDN;
  • Support for the WSIS Action Line C8 on cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content, for which UNESCO is the facilitator, including hosting action line facilitation meeting;
  • Close collaboration with IETF on a number of projects, including ENUM. ITU-T held a joint leadership meeting with IETF in Chicago in July.
  • ITU was a founder member of the World Network for Linguistic Diversity, of which our moderator today, Mr Samassekou, is President.
  • ITU itself, through Resolution 154, now works in six official languages on an equal footing, and we have taken steps to ensure that this is also reflected on our website.
  • We are developing a terminology database in the 6 official languages
  • We allow MS to translate our standards into additional languages
ITU is committed to making a contribution to the international effort to overcome language as a barrier to achieving a fully-inclusive Information Society. ITU, as a unique standards development organization consisting of a partnership of 191 Member States and of over 700 private sector entities, has the tools and the know-how that is required to ensure that all of the world’s scripts are available on the Internet. We are working hard to meet the WSIS commitment that this should be achieved no later than 2015. In that respect, we will continue to collaborate closely with ICANN and UNESCO, and with all the other international and regional organizations committed to the same goal.

A century and a half ago, ITU adopted the simplest of the world’s scripts—morse code—to become a global form of communication. Our goal now is to reconcile the simplicity that is required for efficient international information exchange with the huge diversity of the world’s cultural richness, and so to build a fully inclusive Information Society.

Thank you.


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