ITU's 20th Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-18) officially ended today with Member States reaffirming their commitment to the common vision of a connected world, where information and communication technology (ICT) is a source for good for everyone, everywhere – and to the crucial mandate of the Union to realize this vision.
“We have many challenges ahead of us. Far too many people around the world are still waiting to reap the benefits of the digital economy. Substantial digital divides still exist within and between countries. We need to continue our efforts to leverage ICT to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. I am pleased that PP-18 supports ITU's work towards this end," said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General.
“The ICT sector has never been free of challenges. On the contrary! If I have learned one lesson in my journey in this sector - and as the Chair of PP-18 - it is that the need for performance advancement remains relevant, driven by the world around us," said H.E. Majed Sultan Al Mesmar, Deputy Director General of the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority in his closing remarks. “In fact, the only thing that is constant in life is change. That's why we must always be ready to adapt to developments, and explore ways to increase flexibility and speed our work mechanisms in ITU and other organizations."
“The PP-18 agenda focused on the UN Development Goals," said H.E. Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori, Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) and Chairman of the Board of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre on behalf of the host country UAE. “We have four years of work ahead on what has been decided in this esteemed conference. These pillars include digital divide, social integration, gender balance, digital literacy, enhanced international collaboration, digital commerce, electronic security, emerging technology and others," he said.
The Plenipotentiary Conference (PP) is the supreme decision-making organ of ITU, a specialized agency of the United Nations. Taking place every four years, it determines the direction of the Union and its activities until the next PP. Most PP resolutions are open-ended, and ITU Member States evolve them to anticipate and respond to a fast-paced technology environment. While ITU's history is 153 years long, its spirit is young.
Big strides toward gender parity
The ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2018 saw a number of breakthrough records towards gender parity.
ITU Member States elected the first woman ever to one of five top management positions in the 153-year history of the organization. Nearly three out of 10 PP-18 participants were women, up from two out of 10 at the last Plenipotentiary Conference, held in 2014.
In addition, for the first time in the history of ITU Plenipotentiary Conferences, ITU Member States elected more women than men to Committee Chairs, with four out of seven. They also elected three women to the Radio Regulations Board; for the past four years only two women served on the Board, which approves the Rules of Procedure in the application of the Radio Regulations, the international treaty on the allocation and use of radio frequencies and the use of satellite orbits.
Main PP-18 decisions
Harnessing new technologies as a source for good
Sustainable Development Goals – ITU Member States approved the Union's Strategic and Financial Plan which sets the targets for 2020-2023, asserting ITU's role in facilitating progress towards the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals through ICTs. These targets are divided into five strategic goals: growth; inclusiveness; sustainability; innovation; and partnership.
Innovation – ITU Member States also passed a new resolution to promote an enabling environment for telecommunication/ICT-centric innovation by small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), start-ups, incubation centres and young entrepreneurs. SMEs are a source of new ideas and innovation, and often account for a significant proportion of the economy in developing countries. ITU Member States, therefore, also resolved to introduce reduced membership fees for them and to foster their participation within the context of ITU Telecom World.
Over-the-top services (OTTs) – The evolution of the telecommunication/ICT sector has led to new market structures, business models, investment strategies and revenue streams. OTTs, services that run “over-the-top" of existing telecommunications infrastructure, have played an increasing role. A new resolution recognizes the positive roles of OTTs in fostering socioeconomic benefits and that mutual cooperation between OTTs and telecommunication operators can be an element to foster innovative, sustainable, viable business models.
Internet of Things – ITU Member States resolved to promote investment in the development of the Internet of Things (IoT), and smart sustainable cities and communities to support the Sustainable Development Goals. IoT refers to the network of computing devices with built-in smart sensors and software – enabling billions of devices and objects to connect with each other, collect real-time information and send this data, via wireless communication, to centralized control systems. These, in turn, manage traffic, reduce energy usage and improve a wide range of urban operations and services.
For everyone, everywhere
Future networks for developing countries – ITU Member States resolved to continue ITU's work relating to the deployment of future ICT networks in developing countries. Future networks such as 5G are set to play a pivotal role in the digital economy. They will support applications such as smart homes and buildings, smart cities, 3D video, work and play in the cloud, remote medical surgery, virtual and augmented reality, and massive machine-to-machine communications for industry automation and self-driving cars.
Bridging the 'standardization gap' – ITU Member States resolved to promote the increased participation of developing countries in ITU's standardization process so they can develop their digital economy faster. International standards, developed rapidly in line with the principles of global connectivity, openness, affordability, reliability, interoperability and security, are critical for generating confidence for investments in ICTs. International standards can be used to develop national standards which can help introduce or switch to new technologies in a timely manner.
Gender equality – ITU Member States resolved to strengthen efforts to make progress on gender equality within ITU and in the ICT sector, e.g. by reviewing their respective policies and practices to ensure that recruitment, employment, training and advancement of women and men in the ICT sector are undertaken on a fair and equitable basis.
Accessibility – ITU has been instructed to share best practices implemented in favour of accessibility to telecommunications/ICTs for people with disabilities and people with specific needs and to promote the collection and analysis of statistical data on disabilities and accessibility that Member States can consider when preparing and designing their own public policies to promote accessibility.
Safeguarding people against the risks from ICT misuse
Child online protection – Billions of children now use connected mobile devices, and they are coming online at younger ages. While this opens new opportunities for innovative education, it also brings a variety of risks, ranging from cyberbullying to exposure to inappropriate and harmful content. ITU Member States resolved for ITU's Child Online Protection (COP) Initiative to work with Member States and partners to disseminate methodological frameworks for data production and statistics with the purpose of maximizing data comparison among countries.
Cybersecurity – ITU Member States have resolved to strengthen the role of ITU in building confidence and security in the use of ICTs, such as by promoting a culture in which security is seen as a continuous and iterative process and by supporting the standard-setting activities of ITU. The number, severity and diversity of cyber-threats and -attacks have increased. They can compromise the availability, integrity and confidentiality of critical information and infrastructure. They can impact countries' economic and social development.
The 20th Plenipotentiary Conference, held in Dubai from 29 October to 16 November 2018, closed with the signing of the Final Acts. The Conference, hosted by the United Arab Emirates, attracted more than 2300 participants from 180 countries, up from 171 countries in 2014.