Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF) 

 Second Meeting of the Informal Experts Group (IEG)

 Opening speech


10 October 2012, Geneva, Switzerland

Distinguished experts,
Dear staff and colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you here today to this second meeting of the Informal Experts Group, the IEG, preparing for next year’s World Telecommunication Policy Forum, WTPF-13.

I am pleased to see so many familiar faces in the room from the first meeting, held at the beginning of June.

I am also happy to welcome several non-members of ITU, who have joined this expert group to contribute their expertise and insights – including ICANN, as well as Google, which is here as part of the US delegation.

Telecommunications and information and communication technologies – ICTs – continue to evolve extremely rapidly.

And as the ITU-led World Summit on the Information Society emphasized, it is vital that all stakeholders work together to ensure that the benefits of ICTs reach as many of the world’s inhabitants as possible.

In July, ITU’s Council agreed that all relevant stakeholders should participate in the work of the IEG to contribute their unique perspective to the preparatory process, based on their roles and responsibilities under Paragraph 35 of the 2005 Tunis Agenda.

As a result, participation in the work of this group is now open to all relevant stakeholders, irrespective of whether they are ITU members or not. This is in accordance with Council’s wishes, taking into account Decision 562 and the need to maintain a balanced group of experts.

I would therefore like to thank you all for agreeing to become members of the Informal Experts Group – and ITU looks forward to working with all stakeholders to fulfil its mission to ‘Connect the World’.
Ladies and gentlemen,

The WTPF is more free-ranging and free-thinking than most ITU events – in part because its outcomes (or I should say, its ‘opinions’) are non-binding.

Indeed, the WTPF exists precisely so ITU membership can debate key issues in the world of ICTs, in a low-pressure setting.

ITU Council decided at its 2011 Session that WTPF-13 would discuss all the issues raised in Plenipotentiary Resolutions 101, 102 and 133; a decision subsequently upheld by this year’s Session of Council.

WTPF-13 therefore represents your opportunity to air the issues as you see them among fellow experts.

I personally enjoy the WTPF, because it offers a chance to start from scratch, debate immensely and intensely, and ultimately either agree – or respectfully agree to disagree, if need be.

Distinguished experts,

We are in the final stretch of our preparations towards three major ITU events: ITU Telecom World 2012 in Dubai; the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly, WTSA-2012, again in Dubai in November; and the World Conference on International Telecommunications, WCIT, that will take place in the first part of December, again in Dubai.

At this very busy time, I would like us all to be reminded of an absolutely fundamental fact, which is sometimes overlooked:
  • ITU exists because of its members.
ITU’s considerable membership includes 193 governments, and over 700 private sector entities, academia and civil society, as well as other international bodies – both governmental and non-governmental.
ITU’s history highlights many great examples of different stakeholder groups from different regions and different perspectives working together for the common good, and in the public interest, to resolve complex and challenging issues.
Perhaps most significantly, every time anyone in this room – indeed anyone in the world – makes a phone call, either fixed or mobile, they do so thanks to the work of at least two of ITU’s three Sectors.
To give you some other, very obvious examples of ITU’s work fundamental to the operation of modern-day communication networks, consider:
  • The telephone numbering and addressing system;
  • Radiofrequency spectrum allocation;
  • Signalling System Number 7 – which enables SMS, among other functions;
  • xDSL standards;
  • Compression standards used for IPTV and popular video sites such as YouTube;
  • And – depending on which phone you use – Quality of Service.

The present-day Internet works due to the ICT networks – including fibre-optics, mobile and satellite – which underpin it. Hardly anyone would be able to use this incredibly 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’ – Recommendations is a very soft word – 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, Ladies and gentlemen,

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 smartphones, tablets and computers.

The information and knowledge made available by the Internet are global public goods of value to us all – and are now accessible to almost two and a half billion Internet users all over the world.

Our goal is to make sure that ultimately this extraordinary resource is available to all the world’s seven billion people.

That’s our goal, and that’s our challenge.

The spectacular growth of the Internet is raising many new issues – due both to the growing demands on Internet design, and to the need for more infrastructure for new services and applications.

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 are many 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!

We are around half-way through the preparatory process working towards WTPF-13.

I am pleased with the way my report is shaping up – thanks to your review, contributions and feedback, and in particular with the range and depth of the issues it covers.

I thank you for your time and contributions, both in terms of documents as well as through your enriching debates – which of course include the discussions we will be having over the next three days.

I am especially grateful to our Chairman, my friend Petko Kantchev, who – just before the first meeting – agreed to chair this group at very, very short notice.

He has done a wonderful job in guiding this group and the ITU Secretariat through discussions that are sometimes difficult on a topic on which there is so much divergence of opinion.

I thank him for his expertise and dedication to making WTPF-13 a success.

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 and resolutions by ITU’s Membership 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 not directly related to technical standards can trace its roots back to the global principles established at the World Summit on the 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 – Government, the 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.

One thing you will most certainly not see in my report, however, is any suggestion for the ITU or the United Nations to take over the Internet! The blue helmets are not coming.

This is very important.

Everyone knows and agrees that Internet governance is multi-stakeholder. As one of those many stakeholders, we can debate the issues here – and come up with meaningful opinions that will help enhance the system.

It is seven years since WSIS concluded in 2005, and WTPF-13 is scheduled to take place just one 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 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.

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

Thank you very much.