Committed to connecting the world


WCIT-12 First Plenary: Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General

First Plenary of World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12)

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 3 December 2012

Mr Chairman,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,  

I would like to thank you for this opportunity to speak in some detail about the work we are engaged on here in Dubai over the next two weeks.

Firstly, however, I would like to take a moment to honour the achievements of the original ITRs which came out of the Melbourne conference in 1988.

The 1988 ITRs were negotiated by publicly-minded civil servants and telecom engineers – who were, in those days, one and the same.

They acknowledged the tremendous public benefit inherent in communications networks and services. As a result, the original ITRs paved the way for the phenomenal growth we have witnessed across the information and communication technology sector.

The 1988 ITRs:

The original ITRs paved the way for the liberalization of the ICT sector, for which we should all be grateful.

They paved the way for the explosive growth we have seen over the past two decades.

In 1988, there were just 4.3 million mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide. Today there are over six billion – representing growth of over one thousand-fold!

In 1988, hardly anybody except a few scientific researchers was online. Today we are approaching 2.5 billion users of the Internet.

In preparing for this conference, we have seen and heard many comments about ITU or the United Nations trying to take over the Internet.

Let me be very clear one more time:

WCIT is about making sure that we connect the billion people without access to mobile telephony.

And that we connect the 4.5 billion people who are still offline.

The 1988 ITRs were instrumental in enabling rapid growth in the ICT sector.

They also made possible the global deployment of the Internet – and for this we should once again be grateful to Australia, which hosted the 1988 conference in Melbourne, and which is represented here today by Senator Stephen Conroy, and which of course at the time was represented by Secretary-General Dick Butler, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Many other ITU activities continue to be essential components of Internet growth, and ITU standards used every day in the Internet include:

In the second decade of the 21st century, ICTs play an increasingly central role in our lives – not just as a means of communication, but also as a source of news, entertainment, information, and education.

For an increasing percentage of the global population, ICTs are also a vital source of income, savings and employment opportunities.

Demand for ICTs continues to grow everywhere in the world – and we should congratulate ourselves for successfully serving humanity so well.

We managed to survive two world wars and a cold war, and a series of economic depressions and recessions.

This is not a fluke or a coincidence – it is a credit to the hard work each and every one of your administrations has put in.

The progress made in ICT growth over the past 25 years is the most extraordinary achievement, and it has happened thanks at least in part to the principles and ground-rules enshrined in the ITRs.

The Internet is no longer an innovation whose scope and benefits are limited to the developed world. It is a global phenomenon.

I think we can all agree that the Internet is a valuable global public resource which every citizen in the world should be able to benefit from.

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

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

Here at WCIT-12, you can see an excellent demonstration of ITU as the original multi-stakeholder organization.

This is achieved here in Dubai by the tremendous diversity we see in the composition of national delegations – which include government, industry and civil society representatives, as well as technical and legal experts, gathered here together to work towards the common good.

ITU has made every effort in the run-up to this conference to ensure that everyone can have a say and that everybody’s voice is heard.

And indeed over the past weeks and months we have heard from all sides and all stakeholders. There has been a very healthy debate, which has spread through the online and print media, and across the web through blogs and social media sites.

And we appreciate every contribution that has been made to the debate.

I personally am pleased to have been able to meet – and to listen to – so many representatives of civil society over the past months, and to hear their concerns and their hopes for the future.

Here with us in the room, let us welcome the participation of civil society organizations, including international organizations such as Article 19, Public Knowledge, IT for Change and ISOC, and regional organizations such as CAPDA and ACSIS, as well as many others.

Let me give a special welcome to ICANN, whose new President and CEO, Fadi Chehadé, addressed us this morning, and whose Chairman of the Board, Steve Crocker, is also with us as a special guest.

I look forward to the exciting opportunities that lie ahead and all that can be achieved by ITU and ICANN together, in a positive spirit of collaboration.

The work of ICANN and ITU can be and should be fully complementary.

And we should note quite clearly that ITU has no wish or desire to play a role in critical Internet resources such as domain names – and that ITU does not have any mandate to challenge ICANN’s role and competency.

Under Mr Chehadé’s leadership, I am confident that a new season of cooperation and a new season of understanding will unfold – a new season that will benefit our connected world.

I think this is a great demonstration of how WCIT-12 is very much an open-door meeting.

We have on-site participation, through the various delegations, of all stakeholders.

And we also welcome the presence of the world’s media and members of the public – both here in Dubai, as well around the world, through remote participation online.

We have heard from many stakeholders over the past months, both in the form of formal contributions from member states; informal comments and contributions from our wider audience, and of course through many articles and blogs that have been published.

Indeed there has been quite a lot of buzz and noise around the conference, which is as it should be.

But let me add a word here about ‘silence’.

There is an old African saying:

I think this is why it is always so important to know what the silent majority thinks and wishes.

And we should remember that the silent majority – in the online world – includes the two thirds of the world’s people who are still offline.

So while we welcome and indeed look forward to hearing many individual contributions over the next two weeks, we should also bear in mind one of Gandhi’s great sayings:

Distinguished colleagues,

You are here to negotiate a treaty.

Member States become parties to treaties because they expect the benefits of signing the treaty – whether commercial, moral or any other benefits – to outweigh any potential disadvantages.

My hope and conviction – and I am sure this is shared by all of us here – is that by coming here voluntarily, to negotiate, you will seek win-win solutions that benefit everyone.

Because there is so much to be gained.

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The most important goal to achieve is to bring the benefits of broadband to all the world’s people.

It is easy, here in Dubai, where we are provided with excellent facilities and connectivity, to forget that the Internet is still just a dream for two thirds of the world’s people.

Most people, in most of ITU’s Member States, still have no access to what could arguably be called the greatest public good ever made available to humanity.

The 1988 ITRs led the way to ubiquitous mobile connectivity.

How can we make sure that the 2012 ITRs do the same thing for broadband?

As Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, said in his message earlier today:

Here in Dubai, we will be looking at a number of areas where there is great promise of being able to achieve compromise text based on Member State proposals – and in doing so, set the stage for increased ICT infrastructure rollout and access around the world.

These topics include:

In all of these, let me remind you that we need to stick to high-level principles, which drive continuous competition, innovation and growth.

I am pleased to note that a number of contributions to WCIT-12 have reminded us of some key ITU declarations regarding these issues, and let me cite some of these:

Distinguished colleagues,

We all know that the discussions regarding Article 6 of the ITRs, dealing with financial matters, will be delicate.

But we all agree, I am sure, on the need to foster the continuing development of broadband.

And we all agree on the importance of competition in promoting investment, as recognized by the Broadband Commission.

In the light of these two points, I would urge you to consider how best to adapt Article 6 so that it will help to achieve the desired goal: to bring the benefits of broadband to all the world’s people.

Some have said that broadband is a national matter, and is therefore not within the scope of the ITRs.

It is hard to share this view, however, in a global village.

If a country does not have adequate ICT infrastructure – and that must include broadband, in the 21st century – then it simply cannot participate in the global market.

That penalizes the citizens of that country – but it also penalizes the citizens of other countries, who cannot benefit from interacting with them.

So access to modern, high-speed telecommunications is not merely a national matter.

On the contrary, it is one of the most important international matters – something we have been aware of since 1865, when governments founded ITU to address issues of international interconnection.

Different contributions from Member States have given us different views on what a revised framework might look like, and I would like to thank our membership for these.

So let’s work together to find what the different views have in common, and find the consensus that will help drive growth in ICT networks over the next decades.

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Over the months leading up to WCIT, some incorrect information regarding this conference has been published in various media – and my staff and I have worked hard to correct that.

The misinformation has not been helpful in terms of clarifying the plain facts and the enormous benefits we can hope to achieve here in Dubai over the next two weeks.

But I would nonetheless like to thank all those who have published material about WCIT-12, including the detractors – who have done so much in just a few months to bring these important issues into the public eye, all around the world.

They have played an active part in participating in the process and even if we do not agree with everything that has been said, we welcome the participation.

And thanks to all this attention, the ITRs have never been so much talked about.

And as the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde once said:

Let me nonetheless take this opportunity to address some of the myths that have been created around WCIT-12, and to clarify several matters.

One of the most persistent myths concerns freedom of expression, and it has been suggested that this conference might in some way act to restrict the open and free flow of information.

In article 33 of the ITU’s Constitution, however, Member States recognize the right of the public to correspond by means of the international service of public correspondence.

And the ITRs cannot contradict that provision, or indeed any other article in the ITU Constitution.

This concept is paralleled in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which I will quote here in full:

Clearly, there is universal agreement on this matter, and these freedoms are not up for negotiation, as Ban Ki-moon reminded us this morning.

So here in Dubai we are not going to be challenging Article 19, or indeed any other article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On this note, let me say that I welcome the proposal from Tunisia and others to include a provision on freedom of expression in the ITRs, and I look forward to seeing this issue addressed in the preamble of the revised ITRs.

Fears have also been expressed that new provisions in updated ITRs might help to legitimize government censorship.

And I fully agree that this should not happen.

This conference will not stand in the way of the need to protect the right of the freedom of expression, the right to communicate, and the right to privacy.

But we must recognize that none of these freedoms can exist without security – especially in the online world.

If you – your personal information, your banking details and even your identity – are not secure, then how can you use ICTs with trust and confidence?

Since the World Summit on the Information Society, we have seen widespread support for greater recognition of the importance of security in the use of ICTs.

This delicate issue was assigned by WSIS to ITU, and we understand very clearly that there is a fine line which must not be crossed, in balancing the needs for freedom and privacy, on the one hand, and security, on the other.

So let me urge you to work together in good faith to achieve a sound, reliable and honourable compromise.

So that we can all benefit from:

As I have said before – the only way you can win a war is to avoid a war in the first place.

And this Conference is a very good place to start.

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The simple question of affordability remains the biggest single barrier faced by the billions of people around the world who are still offline.

We all know that the cost of connectivity is too high in most developing countries.

And not just in developing countries.

Recently, in a New York hotel, I had to pay 76 US dollars for three days’ Internet access. That’s the equivalent of 760 dollars a month.

How can anyone afford that?

And yet the same connectivity I was offered is available to US citizens for just 10 US dollars a month.

We are also well aware that international mobile roaming prices in many parts of the world are still far too high.

We all want to see greater Internet usage across the world.

And I presume we all want consumers to feel that they are getting good value for money when they roam.

We look forward to your discussions and debates over these issues over the next two weeks.

And I am sure that a consensus view will be found, in the tradition of ITU.

We will find ways to bring down the cost of Internet connectivity, while ensuring sufficient revenues for operators to deploy broadband infrastructure.

And we will find ways to ensure that both customers and operators feel that roaming prices are fair and reasonable.

And of course by consensus, I mean consensus, in the true tradition of ITU.

To reach consensus, delegates will need to show willingness to compromise.

So I urge you to work together for the common good – in the true ITU tradition.

Dear colleagues,

We must not be complacent in taking the benefits of the online world for granted.

One third of the world’s people – including those of us here in Dubai –expect to be able to access information easily, online.

One third of the world’s people expect to be able to give their children a proper education, and for their children to be able to access all the academic resources they need, online.

One third of the world’s people expect to be able to provide themselves and their families with decent healthcare – and for their doctors and healthcare providers to have access to the full wealth of medical information online.

But we all know that two thirds of the world’s people, today, do not have these privileges.

And if they stay unconnected to the Internet, they will never have these privileges.

All people, from all regions of the world, have a right to participate in the knowledge society and the dawning digital economy:

So let me urge you to recognize the vital importance of measures to promote access to broadband around the world, in all countries and in all regions – and to help deliver total inclusion.

This is your moral duty.

And as George Washington, one of America’s founding fathers and great high-minded public servants, once said:

This Conference has the power to ensure:

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I have no doubt that the work ahead of us at this Conference will be intense, constructive and productive.

And that however long the night, the dawn will break.

I have no doubt that we will sometimes struggle to find agreement.

But let us not confuse differences of opinion about the way ahead with differences of opinion about our common goal.

Indeed, we will welcome differences of opinion, as we have always done.

Here in Dubai, we will not see clashes between people, but friction between minds.

And as we all know, from friction comes light.

The light that will help us see our common goal.

Our common goal:

We have the power to do this – together.

We have the power to make the world a better place – together.

We have the power to create a brave new world, where social and economic justice prevails – together.

So let’s get to work!

Thank you.
Thank you very much indeed.