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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

Arab States Preparatory Meeting for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12)

Cairo, Egypt, 28 April 2012

Keynote Address

Salem Alekum
Ŝukran sayyidî arra'îs,
Distinguished colleagues and friends,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning and welcome to this Arab Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12).

On behalf of the ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré I would like to thank Dr. Amr Badawi, Executive President of the National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA) of Egypt for chairing and hosting this event.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Vice Chairman of the Council working group for this region - Sherif Guinena – for his excellent contribution.

This event is intended to facilitate the region’s contribution and participation in the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) which will be held in Dubai, 3-14 December this year.

Although WCIT is not an ITU-T Sector conference, since it is likely to impact ITU-T more than the other two sectors the Secretary-General has decided that I should coordinate the ITU Secretariat’s preparations for WCIT. I am pleased to be joined by our two experts Richard Hill, TSB; and Preetam Maloor from the General Secretariat. We also have Bilel Jamoussi, Chief of the Study Group Department in TSB, and Ebrahim Al Haddad, Director of the ITU Regional Office for the Arab region.

ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI) shows a remarkable rate of change in this region. In just seven years Internet use has increased five fold, and broadband use eight fold.

However as well as having some very connected countries the Arab region ranks just fourth of six regions in the world, a reflection of the great developmental divide in the area which was addressed by the recent Connect Arab Summit. Saudi Arabia has shown the most dramatic improvement in its ranking, with the UAE ranking as the most connected and Yemen being the least.

Connecting the world and all of its inhabitants is ITU’s key objective. Many Resolutions drawn up at our major conferences seek to achieve this objective.

WCIT will amend the only truly global treaty on international telecommunications – a treaty that 178 countries are bound to but which is now well out of date having not been revised for 24 years.

The current ITRs are widely credited for creating the basis of today's connected world. They were a major driver of liberalisation and competition and enabled the development of the Internet.

This conference comes at a time when the ICT sector is having a major impact on economic and social development. It is an opportunity to amend the treaty in a way that will further extend the benefits of ICTs.

The new treaty should express the common will of ITU's members – both its government members and private sector members. ITU’s membership consists of 193 governments and, unusually for a UN organization, over 700 private sector entities, and since the beginning of last year universities and research institutes: we already have 38 academy members.

The preparatory process for WCIT includes regional preparatory meetings: six major regional organizations around the world; and a Council Working Group that meets in Geneva: all of ITU’s membership can participate in these meetings.

There are also meetings held in partnership with other organizations such as one that took place two weeks ago in Brussels jointly with ETNO – the largest association of operators. This workshop came up with some interesting conclusions which can be viewed on the ITU website.

We are also organizing a special information session on 16 May during the WSIS Forum the objective being to raise awareness among all stakeholder groups on the importance of WCIT and the ITRs, and to respond to questions.

The Council Working Group to prepare for WCIT met this week in Geneva and the final meeting will take place 20-22 June 2012. The publication of its report will be on 29 June 2012 (five months prior to the conference) and will include a consolidation of all the proposals it has received.

Member States are asked to submit their proposals for the work of the conference four months before the conference and at the very latest 14 days before the start of the conference.

I was pleased to observe, this week, that the Council Working Group is achieving some degree of convergence at least on some the high-level principles.

However, it is these regional meetings that are particularly important since in ITU conferences it is difficult to make a proposal if it does not have regional support, and it will be the regional proposals that will be the basis for negotiation at the conference.

As was suggested at the ETNO workshop, we will organize another information session in Geneva after all the regional organisations have completed their preparations, sometime in September. This will help ensure we all understand the regional proposals and hopefully identify some common ground.

Some of the issues on the table will no doubt include the right to communicate; security in the use of ICTs and the protection of national resources; taxation; international roaming; misuse and hijacking of international numbers; and interoperability.

As has been mentioned by Dr. Badawi, data volumes are increasing much faster than the infrastructure needed to carry it, and there is a risk of a lack of investment in the development of the infrastructure. This is also something that could be addressed at the WCIT.

The current international regulatory framework is simply not equipped to deal with these challenges which will affect the creation of a fully inclusive information society over the next decade, one that ensures the world's citizens can gain equitable and affordable access to voice, video and data.

The Dubai Treaty should lay down the principles for action on these topics at an intergovernmental level.

We hope that it will create a stable international regulatory framework providing the right conditions to allow markets to flourish globally.

It should act as a positive catalyst for the future development of ICTs, to benefit all countries. The issues that are on the table for discussion are therefore vital to the creation of a fully inclusive information society.

I am confident this region will take an active role in the preparatory process and the conference. In the interests of sustainable and equitable growth of global ICTs this conference is an opportunity not to be missed.

Thank you all for attending, I wish you a productive meeting and my colleagues and I will do all we can to assist you reach a successful conclusion.