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WTPF-21: Why we need a shared vision for our digital future

Technologies that promise to transform humanity will be at the heart of the sixth World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF-21), set to be hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) online from 16 to 18 December.

I look forward to welcoming policy-makers and leaders from the private sector, academia and civil society to our forum to discuss the increasing possibilities for artificial intelligence (AI), 5G and other emerging information and communication technologies (ICTs) to drive sustainable development.

WTPF-21 comes at an especially critical juncture, with global digital transformation accelerating while crucial development progress has been set back.

My report to the Forum

The last meeting of the informal group of experts (IEG-WTPF-21) in charge of preparing the report that will form the basis of discussions at the Forum just took place earlier this month, completing a process that started in September 2019.

I commend the more than 170 experts representing ITU Member States, Sector Members and Academia for staying the course and maintaining a constructive spirit of cooperation and consensus throughout the preparatory process, despite limitations on in-person meetings.

The final version of my report is now available on the WTPF-21 website.

Central to this document is a set of draft, non-binding Opinions that seek to strengthen the relationship between sustainable development and new and emerging technologies.

Taken separately, each Opinion provides a window into the challenges and opportunities facing policy-makers today – from fostering an enabling environment for innovation and investment and promoting affordable and secure connectivity, to boosting digital literacy, responding to COVID-19, and preparing for future pandemics.

As a whole, the five draft Opinions advance a shared vision for a more fair, sustainable, and inclusive digital future.

Advancing ICT development

In particular, I welcome the experts’ emphasis on improving investment conditions, especially when it comes to connecting those who are still unconnected. Consensus on such key issues can send a strong signal to the world on the need for a new ICT development strategy – one that attracts investors to under- and unserved areas and encourages all actors to make the best use of limited resources.

My own personal vision draws on the strength of four fundamental principles and values, or what I call the “Four Is”: Investment, Infrastructure, Innovation, and Inclusiveness.

WTPF-21 offers a key moment to move the dial on all four fronts and thereby advance the worldwide transition to a digital economy.

At stake is the future of the whole global economy, as well as the international community’s ability to accelerate progress on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in line with the UN Secretary-General’s call for universal connectivity with affordable services for all by 2030.

Leaving no one behind

WTPF-21 could have a profound influence on future development, both for digital tech and the wider world. New and emerging ICT services technologies promise to open up opportunities unimaginable only a few years ago, while at the same time producing innovative business and investment models that putt current regulatory paradigms to the test.

The critical role of digital tech and services during the pandemic offers proof of what is possible.

But the real measure of success will come when everyone gains meaningful access to affordable ICTs, no matter their age, gender, ability, financial means, or location.

A new chapter

With ICT use surging and technological breakthroughs happening at an unprecedented pace, global dialogue has become more important than ever. Through remote engagement, the forum will bring together ICT decision-makers from around the world. Technology solutions will be at the forefront for the humanity’s most pressing challenges, from COVID-19 to the digital divide.

Together, I am confident we can help solve the daunting problems of our time, put the world back on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030, and start the new chapter of our digital future. Learn more about WTPF-21 and register for free.


NOTE: This op-ed was updated in December 2021 to reflect the fully virtual meeting format for WTPF-21.

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