Committed to connecting the world


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

   Columbia University Institute for Tele-Information (CITI)

WCIT-12 - Myths and Reality


24 September 2012, New York, USA

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you here this afternoon at Columbia University for the annual ‘State of Telecom’ Conference.

New York is a great place to talk broadband.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of participating in the Mashable Social Good Summit, where I was delighted to see the audience’s passion to bring technology to all the world’s people.

Yesterday, the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, of which I am the co-vice chair, delivered its first report on the State of Broadband to the UN Secretary-General.

The report finds that tremendous progress has been made, and the impact of broadband services on delivery of essential services such as education and healthcare is simply amazing.

But so much more can – and needs to be – done.
The question before us is: How can we drive the investment needed to ensure that broadband networks are built and all the world’s citizens have access to ICTs?

Even where there is connectivity, improvements can always be made.

Here in hyper-connected New York, network failures and outages are common, and Internet brown-outs and blackouts often arise.

New thinking and new business models are clearly needed.

In December this year, as you all know, ITU will host the World Conference on International Telecommunications, WCIT-12, in Dubai to look at ways of revising the International Telecommunication Regulations.

The conference has attracted an enormous amount of interest and media coverage – especially here in the United States, but not always for the right reasons.

So I would like to take this opportunity to summarize the key issues – and to dispel some of the persistent myths surrounding WCIT-12.

Contrary to some of the sensationalist claims in the press, WCIT is definitively not about taking control of the Internet or restricting people’s freedom of expression or freedom of speech.

It’s about laying down the principles to ensure global connectivity – not global Internet governance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dating from 1988, the ITRs still provide the only truly globally agreed principles today on international telecommunications – to which 178 countries are officially bound.

By advocating market liberalization, the ITRs laid the foundations for the growth of the Internet and mobile telephony.

Researchers in America and Europe invented the Internet; and the ITRs helped the Internet grow exponentially – by establishing clear, mutually-agreed principles for what has become a global public good from which everyone benefits.

I should stress here that my role, as Secretary-General of ITU – and the role of the ITU Secretariat – is simply to facilitate the dialogue, to provide an impartial forum to debate all of the substantive issues, and to ensure that WCIT is properly prepared and staged.

Distinguished guests,

Let us focus on what WCIT is really about.

It is about accelerating the rapid deployment of broadband to ensure that many more of the unconnected are given a voice online and that the transformative power of broadband is accessible to all the world’s people.

This is very much in line with ITU’s day-to-day activities which are already fundamental to promoting Internet growth.

These include:


  • 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.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Simply put, WCIT-12 is about putting ICTs in the hands of all the world’s people.

It is about:
  • The free flow of information;
  • Promoting affordable and equitable access for all, including people with disabilities;
  • The continued development of broadband – including an increased focus on energy efficiency and combatting climate change;
  • Continuing investment in networks, services and applications;
  • And perhaps most importantly – in this very fast-moving world – continuing to promote a harmonious and conducive international environment that drives innovation.

At the request of our Membership, important topics on the table include affordability – reducing the cost of international mobile roaming; how to prevent fraud; misuse of the telephone numbering system; and the empowerment of consumers.

I think we can all agree that access to ICTs should be affordable and equitable to all the world’s people – and that all the world’s people should be able to take advantage of the benefits of ICTs.

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

This concerns us all.

Nobody likes traffic jams – so let’s avoid them and prepare for the massive data traffic that is just around the corner.

Revised ITRs may therefore put in place the principles that will encourage broadband roll-out and investment.

Distinguished guests,

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 and lack transparency.

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.

We can expect discussion during the WCIT on ways to bring down the cost of Internet connectivity in developing countries, while ensuring sufficient revenues for operators to deploy broadband infrastructure.

I am confident that agreement will be found that enables more people to use more information and communication technologies. And that agreements will be found that enable more operators to roll out more infrastructure.

Our belief is that the revised ITRs, as a global framework, will act as a kind of glue bringing together the many disparate efforts around the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Successfully revised ITRs hold huge potential advantages for people across the whole planet, in both developed and developing countries.

So the question before WCIT is: How best can the ITRs be adapted to facilitate this?

We want to hear from you, and I urge you to share your views on the WCIT open consultation on the ITU website.

I look forward to seeing the ITU membership come together, in a spirit of consensus, to deliver revised ITRs that provide guidance on how governments can help to develop markets that encourage investment to meet growing demand – just as the ITRs did in 1988.

For those of you who were around in 1988, you may recall similar scaremongering and rhetoric in the run-up to that conference – all of which we now know to be completely unfounded.

The 1988 ITRs drove a harmonious market ecosystem for investment and innovation, and the 2012 ITRs will do the same for the new and future growth of ICTs around the globe.

We are pleased to see that there is considerable support for including high-level, technology-neutral, principles in the ITRs.

And those high-level, technology-neutral principles should have a positive impact on the Internet – because they should favour its further growth.

A good analogy is that of roads and cars.

Today, traffic is growing exponentially, so ITU’s membership will be looking at ways to ensure that highway infrastructure keeps pace with the increased traffic on the roads.

This doesn’t mean telling people what sort of cars they can buy, or what they can transport along the highways; it just means making sure that the highways are designed and built to cope with the traffic being carried.

As I said earlier, nobody enjoys being stuck in a traffic jam.

Distinguished guests,

WCIT-12 is a tremendous opportunity to make the world a better place for all.

It has the potential to bring ICTs within affordable reach of all of the planet’s seven billion inhabitants.

It has the potential to deliver sustainable social and economic development in every country, on every continent.

And it has the potential to open up new streams of revenue for businesses, and to promote the creation of new business models.

The 1988 ITRs provided the foundations for massive growth in telecommunications, including the so-called ‘mobile miracle’, and set us on the road to the Information Society of today.

And I firmly believe that WCIT-12 will create the right conditions for a ‘broadband miracle’, and will set us on the road to the knowledge society of tomorrow.

Thank you.