ITU’s top contributors: Switzerland featured image

ITU’s top contributors: Switzerland

Switzerland is among the leading contributors to the annual budget of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), with a current commitment of 10 contributory units – equivalent to CHF 3.18 million (or about USD 3.25 million) each year.

As part of this special blog series on ITU’s top contributing Member States, ITU News interviewed Thomas Schneider, Director of International Affairs at the Swiss Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM), part of the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC).

Thomas Schneider, Director of International Affairs at the Swiss Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM).

An expert in digital governance, information and knowledge societies, and governance for artificial intelligence, Ambassador Schneider frequently heads the Swiss delegation to key international gatherings in these fields.

1. Why does Switzerland support ITU? 

Switzerland is a founding member of ITU – originally the International Telegraph Union – and a strong supporter of interconnecting countries and communities to form a global knowledge society. Switzerland – with its vibrant academic sector, highly innovative businesses, and top-notch telecommunications infrastructure – is also ITU’s host country. As such, we strive to offer the best conditions possible for ITU to deliver on its mandate and support innovation and technology for the greater good.

Being headquartered in Geneva, a centre of global digital policy and an important UN hub, ITU plays an essential role in convening different actors to use the potential of digital technologies to achieve the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

We specifically support this collaborative approach – the AI for Good platform, the Giga initiative, and the follow-up process to the World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS) being just a few examples.

Switzerland is assuming a leadership role in digital governance. Our engagement with ITU forms an important part of this and can furthermore strengthen the capacity of others for the same purpose.

2. How does the work of ITU relate to your strategic initiatives in the broad field of information and communication technologies (ICTs)? 

The Swiss Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–23 defines the basic principles for digital foreign policy and sets out the vision of a free, open, and secure digital space. This is the necessary basis if we, as a global society, are to fully benefit from the potential of digital technologies. If ICTs form the backbone of current and future knowledge societies, a solid foundation of trust – in their safety, integrity, and confidentiality – is key. Within the framework of ITU’s work, we must be sure to build such trust around digital technologies.

The Swiss strategy furthermore defines various fields of action to achieve prosperity and sustainable development. ITU’s work plays an important role, both in expanding Internet and ICT access worldwide and in addressing environmental impacts.

Furthermore, Switzerland is a strong promoter of inclusivity in governance. We must make sure, when decisions are taken, that all voices are heard. This is a precondition for fair and sustainable solutions. ITU’s multistakeholder approach is vital to foster such cooperation.

3. What specific benefits do you see from your work with ITU, and which ITU activities are most relevant to your country? 

Digital technologies and content offer enormous opportunities for economic and social development. Universal interoperability of systems, the core of ITU’s work, is of enormous importance, especially true for an internationally oriented country like Switzerland. ITU offers an important forum for sharing knowledge and elaborating national policies and regulations.

Yet to ensure equal opportunities and achieve sustainable development, we must also close gaps, such as in digital access and digital literacy. While access is one precondition, all people must be able to use ICTs to freely inform and express themselves and participate in the shaping of our societies and economies. We must therefore foster interdisciplinary work, bringing together experts from the technical and economic, human and social realms, in pursuit of this shared vision.

Geneva, with its unique mix of institutions and expertise, is where “technology meets humanity”, where concrete challenges are identified and pragmatic solutions can be implemented.

We welcome ITU’s role in strengthening cooperation among different entities with complementary mandates, including economic, human rights, health, and environmental issues. We also welcome ITU’s increasing alignment with the Geneva Internet Platform, another key facilitator of multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder cooperation.

4. Can you provide some examples of how new and emerging ICTs are helping to drive sustainable development in your country, your region, or around the world? 

Just as digitalization is a driver in every single sector, you will find practical applications for sustainable development across the board, including in health, agriculture, environment, inclusive finance, and so on. But to give you just one concrete example, think of school connectivity and the potential – along with the growing need – for online learning.

Still, the digital divide remains a global reality.

Programmes like Giga – a joint ITU-UNICEF initiative to connect schools worldwide, hosted and supported by Switzerland – contribute to bridging the gap and providing universal access to knowledge, regardless of location or level of development.

We would like to invite everyone, including governments, the private sector, and civil society, to join this important common cause. The more closely we all work together, the greater our impact for the next generation.

5. What do you see as the main ICT industry trends in Switzerland? 

The increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and data will accelerate the digital transformation of our economies and societies. In the longer term, quantum computing could be another promising innovation, which may result in developments way beyond what we can imagine today.

Switzerland – described by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as the world’s most innovative country – supports platforms such as the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator and the Digital Watch Observatory to identify future challenges and foster global solutions within the multilateral system.

6. Which issues should ITU address as its highest priorities in the coming years? 

We believe ITU should continue to focus on its main areas of expertise, fostering connectivity and access to digital services for all people all over the world – and thus bridging digital divides.

It should keep fostering cooperation among actors with complementary mandates, aimed at producing concrete and practical solutions to provide not just technical, but also meaningful, access to all people worldwide.

Capacity development is key for a truly inclusive approach.

7. How should ITU evolve to meet the changing needs of the ICT industry? 

Switzerland is ready to help further strengthen ITU’s convening power – to bring together state and non-state members and stakeholders to reach a common understanding of priorities in the telecommunication and technology landscape.

Digitalization being a constantly evolving field, ITU must maintain an agile structure that can quickly respond to new technological developments.

While standardization requires a resource- and time-intensive process, we must make any entry barriers as low as possible. This is key for bottom-up, contribution-driven approaches and long-term global ownership. Amid ongoing, rapid technological advances, these inclusive approaches are key for the success of ITU – an organization that is more relevant than ever.

Image credit: ITU/ I. Wood

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