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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

   World Telecommunication Policy Forum ( WTPF)

Meeting of the Informal Experts Group (IEG) 

Opening Welcome Speech

05 June 2012, Geneva, Switzerland

Distinguished Experts,
Esteemed Staff and Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you here today at this, the first meeting of the Informal Experts Group for WTPF-13.

I am pleased to see so many familiar faces in the room, and I should like to thank you for agreeing to become members of the Informal Experts Group, the IEG.

Compared to other ITU events, the WTPF is one of our more free-ranging, free-thinking events – not least because its outcomes (or “opinions”) are non-binding.

The 2011 Session of ITU Council decided by Decision 562 that WTPF-13 would discuss all the issues raised in Plenipotentiary Resolutions 101, 102 and 133. WTPF-13 therefore represents your opportunity to air all the issues as you see them among fellow experts.

ITU hosts the WTPF precisely so that ITU Member States and any other interested ITU members can debate key issues in a low-pressure setting.

On a personal level, I enjoy the WTPF, because it really is a chance to begin with a blank canvas, debate long, and debate strong, and ultimately either agree – or respectfully agree to disagree, if necessary.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In this exceptionally busy year – as we gear up to ITU Telecom World 2012, the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly, WTSA, and the World Conference on International Telecommunications, WCIT – I would like us all to be reminded of an absolutely fundamental fact sometimes overlooked in this melee:

ITU exists to serve its members and Member States.

ITU’s history highlights many great examples of Member States from different regions and different perspectives working together for the common good and in the public interest to resolve complex and challenging issues.

To give you some very obvious examples, consider the telephone numbering and addressing system; radiofrequency spectrum allocation; Signalling System Number 7 (which enables SMS, among other things); xDSL standards; compression standards used for IPTV and popular video sites such as YouTube; and – depending on which phone you use – Quality of Service.

Every time anyone in this room – indeed anyone in the world – makes a phone call, fixed or mobile, they do so thanks to the work of at least two of ITU’s three Sectors.

The Internet works because of the ICT networks – including fibre-optic, mobile and satellite – which underpin it. And hardly anyone would be able to use this powerful resource without ITU-brokered and approved global standards for the critical transport layers and access technologies.

As I’m sure you are all aware, ITU’s Standardization Sector (ITU-T) has already issued hundreds of standards (called “Recommendations”) aimed at improving the security, sustainability, continuity and robustness of the Internet.

Why is that so important?

Because ITU has a proven track record of debating difficult technical and public policy issues – and coming up with workable solutions.

Clearly, telecommunications today are changing very fast, and we now use our mobile phones for far more than just making phone calls.

Today, we can access a huge range of services including TV, location-based services, social networks and an entire universe of online content over the Internet from smart phones, tablets or computers.

The information and knowledge made available by the Internet are global public goods of value to us all, and are now accessible to some 2.4 billion Internet users the world over.

We want to make sure that all the billions of mobile phone subscribers will be ultimately using it – indeed all seven  billion people on this planet – that’s our ultimate goal; that’s our challenge.

And I should like to remind you of the debates last week of the UN taking over Internet Governance, which I found ridiculous, and most unfortunate. These two worlds need to work together to make the world a better place.

I always compare this to roads, and cars and trucks. It is not because you own the roads that you own the traffic. And you may not be able to make the traffic flow smoothly. You need to know the height, and weight and breadth and be involved in designing some of the features so the bridges don’t collapse. Those two analogies are very important and we need to find a way to have a meaningful debate about this, without one taking over the other.

We are spending an enormous amount of time attacking or defending each other – that time would be much more valuable for the consumers, that we are trying to protect at the end of the day.

ITU is trying to be a technically-oriented organization; it has never been a politically orientated organization, and I hope we stay that way.

After all, we are the oldest UN organization – and the youngest at heart. That means we have survived two World Wars and the Cold War, where all parties worked together and we continued. And let that continue – every day.

And there was no voting on critical issues – the only voting is on elected officials. In all my twenty years with ITU, I only recall three votes and that is unfortunate. Because voting in our culture means that there are winners and losers, and that’s no good – we want win-win situations where everybody emerges winners.

Look at what we did in January 2012: the WRC lasted three whole weeks, without a single vote. We even managed to broker a common resolution between Israel and Palestine – and there was no vote. As Secretary-General, my intention is to continue that. This is the true strength of the Union.

ICT networks are a major engine for growth in the world economy in the twenty-first century, with estimates suggesting that broadband for example can boost annual GDP by 1.2% to nearly 1.4% on average across countries. Estimates for individual countries are much higher, depending on the structure of their economy and ICT take-up.

The recent spectacular growth of the Internet is raising new issues due to the growing demands on Internet design and infrastructure for new services and applications. And in order to protect the value and future of these global public goods, there are many public policy issues which need to be considered, many of which are highlighted in the draft report presented to you.

There is a whole range of ongoing and new concerns with significant global policy implications, emerging in different international forums right across today’s converged ICT industry.

My only regret is that I don’t have many ready answers – but that’s OK, because that’s where you come in!

Distinguished Experts,

The Internet and its related public policy issues are already under consideration in a number of ways at ITU. Let me give you just two examples:
  • ITU’s mandate and role include decisions by ITU’s Membership (eg Decisions and Resolutions) which are also in the Union’s strategic plan and included in the report to Council on the Internet.
  • We also have the Council Working Group on Internet, formerly the Dedicated Group, which was established to identify, study and develop matters related to international Internet-related public policy issues, and including those issues identified in Council Resolution 1305 in 2009.

Most, if not all, of ITU’s current mandate in the area of the Internet can trace back its roots to the global principles established at the World Summit on Information Society, WSIS. This is especially true of the three Resolutions under consideration at WTPF 2013: Resolutions 101, 102 and 133.

WSIS was organized by ITU, and took place in two phases, in Geneva in 2003, and in Tunis in 2005. It was the most wide-ranging, comprehensive and inclusive debate ever held on the future of the Information Society. For the first time, governments, the private sector, intergovernmental organizations and civil society all worked together, hand in hand, for the common good.

WSIS heralded a breakthrough agreement on Internet governance, which acknowledged the need for enhanced global cooperation – and underlined the importance of strengthened cooperation in the development of globally applicable principles for the management of critical Internet resources.

Arguably the most important outcome of WSIS was the clear enunciation of principles for the multi-stakeholder governance model of the Internet, especially the roles and responsibilities of the different stakeholder groups – governments, private sector, international and intergovernmental organizations and most importantly, civil society.

Many of the issues and concerns raised in the current draft of my report stem from the delicate interplay between the roles played by different stakeholders in today’s internet governance ecosystem.

You will not see in my report any suggestion for ITU or the UN to take over of the Internet. This is a very important element. Everyone says that Internet governance is multi-stakeholder – so we are one of the stakeholders and we should debate it as well. And we come, indeed, with very meaningful opinions that will enhance the system.

It is almost seven years since WSIS concluded in 2005, and WTPF-13 is scheduled to take place just a year before the global discussions on the WSIS+10 review process.

The outcomes of WSIS, carefully negotiated by world leaders, provide some worthy high-level principles which can well be considered as offering the right basis for framing WTPF-related discussions.

You may not see the positions of everyone else as legitimate, but some of their concerns will certainly be valid. So in keeping with the legacy and culture of ITU, I urge you to take onboard these concerns and to consider them carefully.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to note ITU’s existing mandate under Resolutions 101, 102 and 133 (and other Resolutions, which are also relevant) and activities under its existing work programme.

In this respect, I urge you to avoid contradicting ITU’s existing mandate and activities, which is a matter for consideration for the Plenipotentiary Conference and other ITU Conferences and Assemblies.

ITU’s mandate has been clearly given to us by the Guadalajara Plenipotentiary Conference and can only be changed by the next Plenipotentiary Conference in 2014. Let’s remember that.

I encourage you to use this opportunity to discuss with respect for each other’s views some of the very real issues and differences in opinion I have noted among ITU membership.

The role of the Informal Experts Group is to provide the policy insight and expertise necessary to inform delegates to WTPF-13.

You also provide contributions to enrich the Secretary-General’s Report, the sole working document of the Forum, and help to formulate the draft opinions – which, I should like to repeat again, are non-binding.

Let’s not forget that, and let’s move forward!

Thank you.