Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a tremendous pleasure and an honour to be here with you in Dubai for this most important and auspicious event.
I imagine that a week or so ago, many of you joining us today did not know much about ITU or the important global work we do.
ITU is the world’s oldest international institution. In 1947, we became a specialized agency of the United Nations, but we pre-date that venerable institution by some 80 years.
Put simply, through helping coordinate resources like wireless spectrum and satellite orbital positions, and collaboratively forging the technical standards that define how communications equipment interoperates, ITU helps connect the world.
WCIT-12 presents us with a unique opportunity to further that aim.
As you know, this conference has convened in Dubai to negotiate the text of an important international treaty, the International Telecommunication Regulations, or ITRs.
For the next two weeks, some two thousand delegates from more than 160 countries will pore over thousands of pages of draft proposals, and debate the language of a new framework which we hope will serve as the stepping stone to tomorrow’s Knowledge Societies.
Let’s take a moment to honour the achievements of the original ITRs which came out of the World Administrative Telegraph and Telephone Conference, which was held in Senator Conroy’s home town of Melbourne, Australia in 1988.
This 1988 treaty paved the way for the phenomenal growth we have witnessed across the information and communication technology sector, establishing milestone principles of public service; acknowledging the right of users to communicate, and enabling the transition to new bilateral commercial agreements that set the stage for the phenomenal boom in voice and data traffic.
In 1988, there were just 4.3 million mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide. Today there are over six billion. The period since we last negotiated the ITRs has also seen the birth of an innovation that history will undoubtedly mark as one of mankind’s greatest leaps forward: the Internet.
Today, there are almost 2.5 billion users of the Internet worldwide. Let us hope that, by the time we next have to negotiate this treaty, many years hence, every single individual in the world will be benefiting from easy and affordable access to this incredibly powerful resource.
This new treaty is about ensuring that the remaining 4.5 billion people are connected, that the remaining one billion have a mobile phone, and that the 650 million people with some type of disability are connected in an affordable and safe manner.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In my opening speech this morning, I emphasized the vital importance of a multi-stakeholder approach in our work.
I am proud to be able to cite ITU as the original multi-stakeholder organization.
There is tremendous diversity in the composition of the national delegations here at WCIT-12. That diversity is reflected in the line-up of our press conference today. We will hear from these distinguished colleagues very shortly.
For ITU and its members, one of the most important goals of the next two weeks will be finding ways to help bring the benefits of broadband to all the world’s people.
We must remember, here in one of the world’s most modern cities, that the Internet remains out of reach of two thirds of the world’s people.
The 1988 ITRs led the way to ubiquitous mobile connectivity.
Our goal this week is to try to ensure that the 2012 ITRs do the same thing for broadband.
I have no doubt that, over the next two weeks, we will sometimes struggle to find agreement. But I am sure, in the great tradition of ITU, that a consensus view will be found. This ability to forge consensus from diversity is what has sustained the International Telecommunication Union for over 147 years.
This emphasis on understanding, on sharing and on exchange is embedded in ITU’s blood.
That is why I have no doubt that we will come away from Dubai proud of the agreements we have forged together.
Agreements that will serve as the cornerstone of an exciting new wave of industry growth, and the development of new services that we have not yet even dreamed of.
When the time comes to sign the Final Acts of the landmark new treaty, I believe every delegate in the room will be able to hold their head high, proud of the vital role they have played in fulfilling ITU’s vision of ‘Connecting the World’.