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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

Public Briefing Session on WCIT-12 

 Opening Remarks


09 October 2012, Geneva, Switzerland

Mr Chairman,
Distinguished guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a tremendous pleasure to be here with you this afternoon for this public briefing on WCIT-12, the conference that is being held in just two months time to look at ways of revising the International Telecommunication Regulations, the ITRs.

The current ITRs date back to 1988 – and back then, the three key pillars underpinning telecoms were time, distance, and location. In today’s world, all three of these have become almost entirely irrelevant in terms of global telecoms services.

Changes in the landscape also include the liberalization and privatization of much of the telecommunications sector since 1988; the creation of regulatory agencies across the world; and the increasing convergence of technologies and services, as well as voice, data and video.

In terms of regulation – in a networked society – it seems clear that our members do not want heavy-handed regulation, and a return to the old days of accounting rates and government-controlled telecommunications.

But they do seem to be in agreement that new high-level principles are needed, and that there should be coordination and consolidation between agencies at both the national and international levels.

Distinguished guests,

WCIT-12 has already attracted an enormous amount of interest and media coverage – 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 the conference.

Contrary to some of the sensationalist claims in the press, WCIT is definitively not about taking control of the Internet, especially in terms of the management of the Internet’s critical resources, such as names and addresses.

Also WCIT is not in any way about restricting people’s freedom of expression or freedom of speech.

WCIT is about laying down the principles to ensure global connectivity – not global Internet governance.

The 1988 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.

That is why ITU’s membership – a membership that includes 193 governments, and over 700 private sector entities, academia and civil society, as well as other international bodies both governmental and non-governmental – have spent some time preparing for this conference.

Because our membership wants to ensure the continued – and indeed expanded – access to what we now know as information and communications technologies (ICTs), for the next generation of users.

There have been many regional preparatory meetings around the world, and a formal Council Working Group, open to ITU Member States and Sector Members, has received contributions that will be the basis for the proposals to revise the treaty.

The ITU Secretariat’s role is to facilitate this dialogue and ensure the preparation and the conference itself benefits from all the necessary support to create a treaty which – we hope – will address all the issues on the table.

Although there are many important issues that the conference will need to address, unfortunately it is often not these issues that are receiving the attention they deserve, because of general and entirely unjustified claims that ITU wants to take over the Internet!

Ladies and gentlemen,

WCIT-12 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 continue enabling the Internet – as it has done since the Internet’s inception – and promoting Internet growth.

These activities 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.

Distinguished guests,

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 just around the corner.

Revised ITRs may therefore put in place the principles to encourage further broadband infrastructure roll-out and investment.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As concerned global citizens, I think you would all agree 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 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 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.

Distinguished guests,

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 all stakeholders, and I urge you to share your views.

There have been various statements in the press to the effect that the ITU maintains a relatively closed, non-transparent decision-making process.

But the ITU is no more and no less than its membership: 193 Member States and more than 550 Sector Members.

All have access to ITU documents – and most Member States make ITU documents available to their citizens.

The USA has stated that it will send ITU documents to any US citizen or organization that asks for it by email.

So there is no reason for any US entity to seek leaked documents: they can get the official authentic documents from the US administration.

It is correct that the ITU Secretariat does not normally make documents publicly available – but this is not the same as stating that the ITU as an institution does not do so.

The mechanism for circulating information is quite rightly left to ITU’s membership – and it is they who decide how and when documents should be made public.

As the chair said earlier, we should all be pleased that ITU’s Council agreed to make the main preparatory document public and authorized me to set up a web consultation to collect views and opinions from the public. Unfortunately, however, very few comments have been posted to that public web site.

In that regard, I am pleased to see such good attendance from Civil Society here today – many of whom I regularly meet at other ITU events, such as the WSIS Forum.

In fact many of you told me about the need for better, more affordable, and more equitable access to broadband infrastructure in your countries; about the need to ensure delivery of e-services to the remotest villages of your land; and the need for better protection of the vulnerable online.

This is where WCIT can make a real difference, and I urge civil society, especially those working at the grass roots level – not the million dollar lobbyists – to work hand-in-hand with us to achieve this goal.

In this regard, I thank many of you here who have personally expressed your support for the WCIT process.

Ladies and Gentlemen

There has been a certain amount of unproductive scaremongering and rhetoric around WCIT-12, so it is worth reminding ourselves that there was similar scaremongering and rhetoric in the run-up to the 1988 conference that created the present ITRs; and that this subsequently turned out 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.

Returning to the analogy of roads and cars, today we know that 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.

Ladies and gentlemen,

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

WCIT-12 has the potential to bring ICTs within affordable reach of all of the planet’s seven billion inhabitants.

WCIT-12 has the potential to deliver sustainable social and economic development in every country, on every continent.

And WCIT-12 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.

WCIT-12 affects each and every one of us – and I was pleased to see that it was discussed at the most recent Broadband Commission meeting which was held in New York just two weeks ago, as well as at various other forums and meetings being held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly.

These included a Mashable event I was invited to speak at, as well as Columbia University’s annual ‘State of Telecom’ conference and the Clinton Global Initiative meetings.

So you can see that this is a topic which attracts global interest and which has the potential to deliver positive benefits to all the world’s people.

And on that note, let me hand the floor to my colleague Richard Hill, who will go into a little more detail concerning the content of the conference, before we move on to questions and answers.

Thank you.