Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

   UN Commission for Science & Technology for Development (CSTD)

Building The Information Society - Then & Now

21 May 2012, Geneva, Switzerland

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here with you today at this, the fifteenth session of the CSTD. I am pleased to see so many friends and familiar faces in the room. 

I am always delighted to visit UNCTAD and the CSTD, as we have enjoyed close working relationships between our organizations for a long time now. In this respect, I am particularly pleased to see Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi again, a Commissioner of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development and fellow believer in the power of broadband to transform lives around the world and improve development outcomes for the better.

Ladies & Gentlemen, allow me to roll back the clock some ten years ago to 2002, when ITU was first planning to host a UN Summit here in Geneva in 2003 – the World Summit on the Information Society.

Proposed by Tunisia and Switzerland, the WSIS explored some of the critical and pending issues of the time concerning the growth of the Information Society.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, let me ask what we guessed right at that time, and what we guessed wrong.

We correctly predicted the stellar growth of ICTs – mobile in particular – and how ICTs would come to permeate our lives, almost invisibly.

At the time of the first phase of the WSIS, there were some 1.25 billion mobile cellular subscriptions, which would nearly double to 2.1 billion by 2005. Today, there are over 6 billion phone subscriptions worldwide, which corresponds to a penetration rate of 86% globally. 

The growth of mobile has been supported by the dedicated, behind-the-scenes, work of ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau, overseeing spectrum allocation and defining standards for the 3G and 4G generations of mobile.

The WSIS focused correctly on issues including freedom of expression, Internet governance, the importance of policy leadership and the need for the public and private sectors to work together, hand-in-hand. I myself remember some of the very delicate negotiations – and even more delicate wording – surrounding some of those topics.  We debated long – and we debated hard, into the early hours of the morning in some cases.

The WSIS also correctly predicted:
  • the power of ICTs to transform lives and livelihoods for the better;
  • the importance of technical standards in facilitating the spread of ICTs;
  • the risks threatening cybersecurity and the safety of children online;
  • the urgency of connecting minorities and giving voice to the voiceless, so that this Internet we are building is truly a global Internet, reflecting all of our concerns and priorities. The digital divide is still with us; only today, it is now a high-speed divide.

Many of these issues remain relevant today.  In many ways, the World Summit on the Information Society was a Summit ahead of its time.

What was difficult to predict back then? 

Digital Natives – our children and grandchildren had not yet overtaken us in digital literacy – I remember when I was still the teacher at the keyboard, not the other way round!

Back in 2005, broadband was just getting started – with just 220 million fixed broadband subscribers, mainly in the developed world, while and mobile broadband subscriptions were negligible, compared to today’s figure of 1.19 billion. 

Last week, many of you attended the WSIS Forum 2012 organized by ITU, and attended by many UN agencies and Action Line Facilitators. More than 1250 WSIS Stakeholders attended from over 140 countries, including 35 Ministers, Ambassadors, CEOs and Civil Society leaders.

The Forum consisted of over 150 sessions in 7 parallel streams and benefitted from a full and frank exchange of ideas and best practices, including from on-the-ground project staff, with a groundbreaking and action-packed programme.

The WSIS Forum provides the tangible examples and experience for ensuring that the vision of the WSIS to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society for all becomes a reality, recognizing excellence in the implementation of projects and initiatives which further the WSIS goals of improving connectivity to ICTs, particularly within underserved communities. Indeed, this year, WSIS Project Prizes were added as a new element to the WSIS Forum.

This year we held a Ministerial Roundtable, where 30 Ministers highlighted their country’s progress in the implementation of the WSIS goals, while drawing attention to many issues that still need to be addressed. They also emphasized the need for national strategies and further international collaboration towards WSIS +10.

Action Line Facilitators from various UN agencies, regional commissions, the private sector, governments and civil society reported their own efforts towards WSIS implementation and follow-up, and shared their future plans to achieve the targets set in the WSIS+10 plan of action.

I am pleased to report that we did have Multi-stakeholder consensus on the following:
  • preliminary indications for a vision beyond 2015
  • templates for the reports of the lead facilitators on the Action Lines
  • templates for the national self-evaluation reporting on the implementation of the WSIS outcomes
This is really a good start.  These templates will establish the necessary framework for reporting on the ten-year achievements by WSIS stakeholders, as well as highlighting the remaining challenges to be addressed.

As we move forward to 2015, ITU will carry out its role appointed by the CEB to manage the WSIS +10 process, and we will do all our best to provide necessary means for developing the vision that corresponds to the real needs of the knowledge society. In 2013, the WSIS+10 preparatory process includes a UNESCOs event in February 2013 and the WSIS Forum in May 2013. We look forward to your active participation in the open consultation process of the WSIS Forum 2013..

Ladies and Gentlemen

I think I speak on behalf of most of the participants at the Forum when I say I did not have a moment to spare, and found it very inspiring, in particular the sessions focusing on how ICTs, and broadband in particular, can be put to work to the benefit of the world’s poorest.

Indeed, the power of ICTs, and broadband in particular, to change our world, lift people out of poverty and help achieve the MDGs are the key messages of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, established by ITU and UNESCO in 2010.

As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi is a Commissioner.  You – along with all the other Broadband Commissioners – are doing great work advocating the importance of policy leadership in helping realize the benefits of broadband.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have highlighted just some of the ways in which ICTs are evolving at breakneck speed.

ITU continues to advocate the benefits – and stay vigilant to the challenges – of the global spread of ICTs.  We firmly believe in the right to communicate.  It is our mission to bring the full benefits of ICTs to all the world’s people, wherever they live, whatever their circumstances.

At the request of our membership, ITU hosts global conferences covering specific areas of work. At the end of this year, we are organizing 3 major events in Dubai

The first of the three is ITU Telecom World 2012 from 14 to 18 October. This event unites top-level representatives from government and industry to debate the shape of the future world of ICTs.

We shall then be holding the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) and the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) back-to-back in November / December to renegotiate the International Telecommunication Regulations.

In many ways, these conferences continue the conversation started by the WSIS - – to leverage the full benefits of access to knowledge and information.  And we look forward to continuing that conversation with you here today.

Thank you very much.