Committed to connecting the world

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

World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF-13)

 Opening Ceremony

 Opening Speech
14 May 2013, Geneva, Switzerland

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a tremendous honour and a real pleasure to welcome you to the fifth World Telecommunication and ICT Policy Forum.

We are joined here for this opening ceremony by Her Excellency Doris Leuthard, the Swiss Minister for the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications; Fadi Chehadé, the CEO of ICANN; and Dr Robert Kahn, one of the original founders of the Internet.

We are very grateful for your support and I look forward to hearing from each of you in a moment.

It is tremendous to see so many familiar faces as well as so many newcomers in the room, and I would like to give a special welcome to delegates here onsite, as well as to the many people who are following remotely around the world.

Our delegates demonstrate the truly multi-stakeholder nature of this Forum, and include representatives of civil society alongside our Member States and Sector Members. I would like to thank the Member States that have broadened their delegations to include civil society and industry representatives, and encourage all Member states to follow their excellent example in making their delegations as inclusive and multi-stakeholder as possible.

Indeed, I think we all agree that continued progress in bringing the world online can only be guaranteed by continuing to practice a multi-stakeholder approach.

Only together can we create a shared vision – and only together can we transform that shared vision into effective action

Let me also take this opportunity to remind delegates both present and remote that we are fortunate at WTPF in being able to work in the six official languages of the Union – both here in Geneva and through the webcast.

We are very happy to have the funding necessary to match our ambition to deliver maximum openness, inclusivity and transparency, and we are grateful to all those who have made this possible.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Many of you here today closely followed the proceedings of the W.C.I.T. at the end of last year in Dubai.

In the run-up to that conference – and during the conference itself – there was a great deal of concern that ITU or the United Nations was trying to take control of the Internet.

And it is my pleasure to announce to you today … [pause] … that we are not taking over the Internet.

The UN peacekeepers, in their blue helmets, … [pause] … are not coming to take over the world’s IXPs.

The UN peacekeepers are not coming to take over the Internet’s critical resources – including the root servers and the DNS.

And my good friend Fadi Chehadé, the CEO of ICANN, can continue doing his good work over there – without me telling him what to do.

Seriously – we never intended to take over the Internet.

The Internet’s doing just fine!

But, ladies and gentlemen,

The WTPF does give us a unique opportunity to come together, to pause, to reflect, and to debate the emerging issues in telecoms and ICTs, and their significance for us all.

Most importantly, it allows us to look at how we can connect the unconnected, which is at the heart of what ITU does, and is fully-consistent with the significant role we have played in enabling the Internet – through standards, spectrum, fibre optic networks, satellites and much more.

The timing of this year’s WTPF, with its focus on International Internet-related public policy matters, is particularly appropriate – as we stand at a ‘tipping point’ between the Internet as a vital enabler of social and economic progress in the industrialized world, and the Internet as a valuable global resource and a basic commodity of human life everywhere.

By the end of this year, there will be almost as many active mobile cellular phones as there are people on the planet, and some 2.7 billion people will be using the Internet – with 2.1 billion active mobile-broadband subscriptions.

But at the end of this year almost 70% of people in the developing world will still be offline – with no access to the world’s greatest library, the world’s most active marketplace, and the world’s greatest social gatherings.

This is something we must all work hard to change.

Because it is clearly a matter of social and economic justice and fairness.

It is also a fact – as several commentators, including Julius Genachowski, former FCC Chairman, have pointed out recently – that all Internet users lose something when some countries are cut off from the World Wide Web.

It is therefore vital to recognize the value of the Internet – as a global resource, basic commodity and valuable international platform for exchange and learning.

We may differ in the wording, but we should all recognize the concept.

That is why international forums for debate and exchange, such as the WTPF – one of ITU’s most free-thinking, free-ranging events – are essential: to ensure we maximize the value of this global resource for everyone.

As the W.C.I.T. clearly demonstrated – on a whole range of issues – there is no single world view, but several.

In the global village we need to ensure that all voices are heard – and wherever possible that all views are respected and accommodated.

So let me encourage you to lead by example, and to put any past differences aside; let me urge you to look ahead, and to engage in discussion and dialogue – and to seek compromise, even if consensus cannot always be achieved.

Let me encourage you to seek a shared vision.

Distinguished delegates,

At ITU our role is to act as a facilitator and a neutral forum, so that bridges can be built between our members, and compromises brokered where necessary.

This is what we have done over the course of nearly 150 years, and I am proud to say that we have been very successful in this regard.

And I fully intend that ITU should maintain and strengthen its bridge-building role, and leverage our unique position as a place where Member States and Sector Members can come together in a neutral setting to discuss the most important issues of the day.

Right now, some of the hottest issues under discussion concern the Internet, and in particular how (or even if) it should be governed.

This is a very interesting, and indeed a very thorny, subject – but we need to see past the thorns if we are to deliver our bouquet of fresh-smelling roses to the future.

I believe that the future can indeed be rosy, and I look forward very much to your discussions and deliberations over the coming days:

  • Should we really be encouraging an anonymous free-for-all in the online world, when we expect completely different standards in the real world – particularly when it comes to those who commit crimes or abuse their privileges?
  • Do we really want the free circulation of horrific images on social networks – openly visible to children – when we would never allow the same images to be broadcast on daytime television?
  • And how do we manage the enormous and growing power of individual companies that now have greater control than many nation states – over our private data, over what we are exposed to, and over what we are sold.?

Ladies and gentlemen,

Back in 2003 and 2005, ITU organized and hosted the first global Summit on Information Society issues – the World Summit on the Information Society.

At the time, there were many who questioned the need for or the importance of such a summit.

And yet it turns out that we were ahead of our time. Because although WSIS did not invent the term ‘Internet governance’, it certainly offered us the first internationally-negotiated working definition of it.

WSIS was also the first truly multi-stakeholder summit, with participation from the bottom-up – from grassroots civil society to private companies, to governments from around the world.

Internet governance is of course significantly broader than just the management of so-called critical Internet resources. It includes a broad range of other significant issues, including how best to ensure our online society is respectful and observant of the views of others. These are principles we all accept in the real world, so we need to discuss how they can be reflected in our online lives as well.

In keeping with the long-established traditions of ITU, I urge you to take onboard all of these concerns, and to consider them carefully.

And this of course is why we are hosting WTPF 2013 – to continue the global conversation on vital issues of importance to us all; to build bridges between different world views; and to create a shared vision.

Just as the original International Telecommunication Regulations, the ITRs, paved the way for the global growth of the telecoms industry, by offering the first global agreement and framework for interconnection and the exchange of international telecoms traffic, the messages emerging from WTPF should be the next step in helping to get people online, worldwide – by encouraging greater investment in broadband, for example.

Distinguished delegates,

The six draft opinions offered here for your consideration should act as a stepping stone towards:

  • Fostering an enabling environment for the greater growth and development of broadband connectivity;
  • Promoting Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) as a long term solution to advance connectivity;
  • Supporting multi-stakeholderism in Internet governance;
  • Supporting operationalizing the enhanced cooperation process;
  • Supporting capacity building for the deployment of IPv6; and
  • Supporting IPv6 adoption and the transition from IPv4.

If we can do that – and I firmly believe that we can – then ITU will be one step closer to fulfilling its mission to ‘Connect the World’.

And we will be one step closer to transforming the information society into the knowledge society, where all the peoples of the world will be able to access, use, create and share information – in an affordable and secure manner.

That is most certainly a future worth aiming for – so let’s get to work!

Thank you.