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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

   Global Media Briefing on WCIT

 Opening Remarks     

22 June 2012, Geneva, Switzerland

Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be able to join you today right after the final meeting here in Geneva of the Council Working Group on WCIT, which has led the preparatory process for this landmark conference, and which concluded its work about 30 minutes ago.

As Secretary-General of the ITU, I welcome this opportunity to set the record straight on a number of important issues which have found their way into various realms of the public domain over the past few months, and which have not – on the whole – been helpful in terms of clarifying the plain facts and the potential benefits we can hope to achieve through the WCIT event.

Firstly, contrary to some comments, WCIT will be the catalyst for the free flow of information.

Let me point out that in Article 33 of the ITU’s Constitution, Member States recognize the right of the public to correspond by means of the international service of public correspondence. In layman’s terms, that means using public network infrastructure to communicate.

And the ITRs can only go along with that provision.

It is true nonetheless that all countries impose some restrictions – for example, to protect copyright owners and to prevent defamation.

Some countries go further and restrict the use of telecommunications in areas such as pornography, gambling, hate speech, negation of genocide, and even certain types of political speech.

Such restrictions are permitted by Article 34 of the ITU’s Constitution, which provides that Member States reserve the right to cut off, in accordance with their national law, any private telecommunications which may appear dangerous to the security of the State, or contrary to its laws, to public order or to decency.

And the ITRs cannot contradict that provision, either.

WCIT, therefore, will facilitate the free flow of information.

There have also been a number of accounts stating that there is some sort of barrier, conflict or even war between telecommunications and the Internet.

In the converged world of the 21st century, this is plainly ridiculous. Who today can tell me the difference, in terms of traffic passing across networks, between voice, video, and data?

The real issue is how best to cooperate – to ensure:
  • The free flow of information;
  • The continued development of broadband;
  •  Continuing investment in networks, services and applications;
  •  And perhaps most importantly – in this very fast-moving world – continuing innovation.

I cannot imagine anyone who would disagree that the benefits of ICTs should be brought to all citizens of the world.

But to do that, we will have to work together.

So the question before WCIT is therefore how best can the ITRs be adapted to facilitate the achievement of that goal.

Let me state that there seems to be considerable support among ITU members for including high-level, technology-neutral, principles in the ITRs.

And of course those principles should have a positive impact on the Internet – because they should favour its further growth.

As we all know, not only were the 1988 ITRs instrumental in enabling the global deployment of the Internet, but many other ITU activities have been, and will continue to be, essential components of Internet growth.

Let me mention just a handful:
  • Standards for end-user access equipment such as modems, including xDSL and cable modems;
  • Compression standards;
  • Security standards, including standards to combat spam
  • Standards for backbone networks, including fibre optics;
  • And, of course, the radio frequencies used to implement WiFi – which you are no doubt using as I speak.

International policy and economic issues related to telecommunications have always been discussed and agreed under the auspices of ITU, to the benefit of all the world’s users – and there is no reason to think that WCIT will be an exception.

This conference comes at a time when the ICT sector is having a major impact on global social and economic development, so this represents a great opportunity to amend the treaty in a way that will further extend the benefits of ICTs to all the world’s people.

As the industry has pointed out, data volumes are increasing much faster than the infrastructure needed to carry it, and there is currently a risk of an infrastructure investment shortfall.

The revised ITRs should therefore help to encourage broadband roll-out and investment. They should emphasize the importance of liberalization and privatization, and should recognize the role of the private sector and market-based solutions.

At the same time as data volumes are increasing, unit prices are declining, so total revenues for telecommunications operators are potentially at risk. As a result, some have said that there is a need to address the current disconnect between sources of revenue and sources of costs, and to decide upon the most appropriate way to do so.

The current international regulatory framework is simply not equipped to deal with these challenges – challenges which will affect the development of a fully-inclusive information society over the next decade; a society that ensures all the world's citizens have equitable, affordable and secure access to voice, video and data.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There are also some people who think that WCIT should not address costs.

But we all know that the cost of Internet connectivity is too high in most developing countries. And we all know that many consumers think international mobile roaming prices are too high. These are facts.

We all want to see greater Internet usage in developing countries. And I presume that we all want consumers to feel that they are getting good value for money when they roam.

So it would seem fully appropriate to discuss these matters in Dubai – so that we can find ways to bring down the cost of Internet connectivity in developing countries, while ensuring sufficient revenues for operators to deploy broadband infrastructure. And so that we can find ways to ensure that both customers and operators feel that roaming prices are fair and reasonable.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It has come as a surprise – and I have to say a great disappointment – to see that some of those who have had access to WCIT proposals have chosen to publicly mis-state or distort them in public forums and to journalists, sometimes to the point of caricature.

These distortions and mis-statements could be found plausible by credulous members of the public, and could even be used to influence national parliaments, given that the documents themselves are not officially available – in spite of recent developments, including the leaking of Document TD 64.

I can confirm that a group of civil society organizations has written to me to request public access to the proposals under discussion, and that I will be putting this proposal to the forthcoming session of ITU Council with a view to advocating open access to these documents, and in particular future versions of TD 64.

Council is ITU’s governing body, comprised of an elected subset of 48 Member States, which meets annually in between 4-yearly Plenipotentiary Conferences.

I will also be recommending to Council that it agree to hold an open consultation regarding the ITRs, accessible to all stakeholders worldwide.

Let me be clear however that it is Council that will take the final decision on these matters, and not the ITU Secretariat.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am proud of the ITU’s tradition of open discussion amongst its membership, and I am proud that the ITU works bottom-up, thanks to inputs from its 193 Member States, 552 Sector Members, 100 Associates and over 40 academic members.

I am pleased to see that our membership has submitted over 120 input documents to the Council Working Group on WCIT. All of our Member States and Sector Members have access to these documents – and in keeping with ITU’s working methods all members have had an opportunity to comment on them, in particular at the regional preparatory meetings.

In accordance with national laws and practices, some countries will no doubt be conducting public consultations on WCIT, and some of those consultations will be based on the report of this Working Group. Indeed I note that the Netherlands has already informed the Council Working Group on WCIT of such a national consultation, and I commended them for that. I encourage more of this kind of action as we move forward, both in the interests of transparency and of accountability.

With all this activity, we can expect significant additional inputs to the conference, and I am confident that these will help us to understand how to iron out any differences in views, so as to achieve consensus in Dubai, in the true tradition of the ITU.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Most of us were not involved in the preparations for the 1988 conference in Melbourne. But the historical record shows that many of the fears, concerns, and criticisms surrounding WCIT also appeared in 1988.

As we know, those fears and concerns were unwarranted: the 1988 Melbourne conference created the framework that enabled the spectacular growth of telecommunications – including the Internet – over the past 24 years.

1988 set the stage for the information society. And 2012 will set the stage for the knowledge society.

Many constructive proposals for revising the ITRs have already been presented. I have actively encouraged ITU members who do not agree with some of the proposals to submit alternatives, and to engage in constructive discussions with all parties.

WCIT is an opportunity to create a stable international regulatory framework providing the right conditions to allow markets to flourish globally – and the issues on the table are vital to the creation of a fully-inclusive knowledge society.

We all know that, in the true tradition of the ITU, we will not vote on any issues – just like in January, at the World Radiocommunication Conference, where in four weeks we did not vote once, but came to consensus on every issue.

Today’s Working Group on WCIT has also concluded on a positive note, with all our members’ agreement. ITU members all want the same thing: further development of telecommunications.

By working together, we know we can make this world a better place.

A world where everyone has equitable, affordable and secure access to broadband – including voice, video, data and Internet – wherever they live and whatever their circumstances.

A world where the social and economic benefits of ICTs have reached all the peoples of the planet.

And a world where social and economic justice prevails.

Thank you.