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Archived Newsroom • Questions & Answers

Questions & Answers
Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General
Question: Given the ongoing global economic problems, what is the immediate outlook for the ICT industry?

Since its origins in Paris in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, founded to manage and standardize the rapid expansion of telegraph networks across the world, the principles and core purpose of the ITU have remained the same: to manage telecommunication resources across the globe and to help the world communicate.

In spite – or perhaps because of – the global economic turmoil, we have managed to put ICT in the centre of everything today. ICT is not just a single industry by itself, it is the key locomotive industry for other industries, and all kinds of economic and societal development, especially in this crisis. Just look around. The ICT industry has been the most resilient. Even in times of crisis, when most companies have been cutting travel and other budget items, spending on ICTs does not fall. Instead, communication technologies are filling the gap, providing new ways of getting business done. As a result, we’re seeing more demand for applications like videoconferencing, data transfer and even voice calls. This trend will certainly persist. As a result, the sector will continue to be the one that’s creating new jobs and offering new opportunities. Innovation in this industry is unstoppable. Now that the Digital Divide is about to be bridged, a new challenge is upon us – the Broadband Divide. This too comes with tremendous opportunities.

Question: In terms of ITU itself, what have been your big achievements?

When I was elected, I strove to streamline the work of the Union, and implement new and transparent accounting models based on greater use of the latest ICT applications, to improve our operational, productivity and optimize the achievement of our mission. I also wanted to create more trust and transparency with our Members, who ultimately provide our funding on what is, essentially, a voluntary basis. Trust and transparency most certainly have increased. Now, we’re seeing many countries increasing their contributions – in some cases, they have actually doubled their contributions as a response to this.

At the internal level, we’ve also come a long way in terms of fostering real teamwork across our three Sectors, built on a platform of a shared vision, open communication, and mutual respect. I can say with confidence that since I took over as Secretary-General, we have strived to attain this in the interest of the Union. We have been very focused on the ‘One ITU’ strategy, and have seen active collaboration as the very best way of achieving our mutual and individual goals.

At a broader external level, I am proud that ITU has been able to position itself to take a leading role in many of the most pressing issues facing our industry – from cybersecurity to technical standardization, and from serving as a major advocate of broadband rollout to promoting the wider use of ICTs in emergency situations. I am also proud of the achievements of the World Radiocommunication Conference 2007, the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly 2008, and the World Telecommunication Development Conference 2010 – all considerable successes that will play a key role in shaping the future work of all three sectors of the Union.

Question: What are the challenges that lie ahead?

There are many challenges across all the activities and Sectors – development, radiocommunication, and standardization – that ITU’s work covers.

Bridging the Digital Divide remains a challenge, though I am pleased to say that we have made tremendous progress in getting even the most disadvantaged communities connected. If we look back 25 years to the Maitland Report, which emphasized the link between access to ICTs and economic prosperity, we can be proud of having achieved the primary goal of putting just about everyone in the world within access of a telephone.

The issue now is to ensure that we avoid a ‘broadband divide’, where the world’s poorer nations are cut off from the high-speed networks that are becoming the cornerstone of our modern infrastructure. In the future, these networks will be as important to economic well-being as power, transport and water networks. This is why I look the lead in setting up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in May 2010. Comprising 58 leaders from around the world, and from a range of public and private spheres, the Commission’s job is to develop strategies to promote broadband infrastructure deployment in both developed and developing nations.

Of course, with always-on connectivity comes cybersecurity risks, and this is another area where ITU continues to be very active, through our Global Cybersecurity Agenda, our Child Online Protection initiative, and our partnership with cutting-edge facilities like the IMPACT early warning and rapid response centre in Cyberjaya, Malaysia.

One of the next big challenges may come in 2012, with the potential revision of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs). These are bedrock regulations, a critical framework for the global telecom sector, because they make provision for how service providers should deal with each other on an international basis. There is a debate among ITU Members about whether a major revision to these regulations is necessary. But the world has changed a lot since the last ITR revision in 1988. We have seen an explosion in mobile communications and the Internet, and there are now many more operating entities in the world as a result of deregulation. So we need to find a way to manage the ITR evolution, but do it in a win-win way for everyone. We need, for example, to see if we could solve major security problems within this framework. Issues such as spam on international networks have created big problems in both traffic and charging, because the people who send it do not usually pay for it.

Finally, of course, in a fast-evolving industry like ours there is the ongoing challenge of creating propitious conditions for effective standards development and management of the radiofrequency spectrum. Standards are the essential building block of our industry, ensuring interoperability of systems and serving as the platform for future innovation. And with the wireless sector booming, as more and more devices connect to the network over the airwaves, there is always a very strong demand for spectrum, necessitating proactive efforts on the part of ITU to optimize the sharing of this increasingly vital global resource.

Question: Have we really bridged the Digital Divide?

Bridging the Digital Divide was one of the three personal goals – along with cybersecurity, and emergency communications for natural disasters – that I set myself when I took office.

In addressing the Digital Divide, I knew I had to get the industry together with the aim of collaboratively tackling the problems. I immediately started with the ITU Connect series of industry events. The first was ITU Connect Africa, which was very successful, attracting an unprecedented level of financial commitments for pan-African investment. Now, for the first time, we’re seeing Africa quoted in a positive economic context, especially in mobile communications where we’re seeing 40% growth per year across the continent. We are examining this to see what the success factors are that have helped with generate that huge growth, and replicate those in other telecom areas. We followed this event ITU Connect CIS in Belarus in 2009, where we focused on promoting the regional regulatory harmonization that will help these markets really take off.

But that said, broadband represents another emerging potential Digital Divide. When I had the idea for the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, I was seeking a new way to enable our industry to transfer best practice policies and implementations across the globe. For the developing world, I am convinced that broadband has come at the right time to help us meet the Millennium Development Goals that the UN instituted to reduce global deprivation. I am proposing broadband as a means to accelerate progress and meet the goals by stimulating e-learning, e-health, e-governance and much more.

So we’re not only bridging the Digital Divide, we’re trying to harness the tremendous power of ICTs to bring other divides – the education divide, the health divide, the economic and political divides. Broadband offers the opportunity for connecting devices and appliances in ways we’ve never seen before – and often never dreamt of. The emergence of this new ‘Internet of Things’ will dramatically accelerate development. But for that to happen equitably, we need all stakeholders to play their part – governments, regulators, the private sector, civil society. In addition, the many traditionally disadvantaged segments of society – women, the elderly, the disabled, the illiterate – need to be actively brought onboard.

Question: What about cybersecurity? We see a lot of concern now in the mainstream media about identity theft, cybercrime, even cyberwar.

These are very big, and extremely important issues, globally. To help promote cybersecurity, I initiated ITU’s Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA) immediately after I took office in 2007, because our Members have been very concerned about threats in cyberspace. This was one of the framework initiatives for our cybersecurity policies. Through our major global partnership with IMPACT we are today providing resources and toolkits to 61 countries to deal with current and emerging cybersecurity problems.

The bigger picture is that cybersecurity ultimately means you are dealing with content – with cultural, political and ethical implications. There is a very fine line between security and privacy, and a very fine line between privacy and freedom of expression. Different countries may treat these issues quite differently. So, in order to kick-start the process of forging international consensus and focus, we created the Child Online Protection (COP) initiative. This says to the world: ‘we need to start to get agreement on these issues, and it’s clear that we can all agree on the need to protect children as a first step’. COP will serve as a template for future negotiations and consensus in cybersecurity issues.

Question: What is your vision right now?

The last decade was the decade of mobile communications. The next decade has to be the decade of broadband. With convergence we have a whole set of new players in this industry, from social media and content groups to service providers. Everyone has to benefit in this new and more complex world. ITU, itself, has been able to adapt to the new environment and while we may have some fine tuning to do in determining membership categories to cater to new kinds of players, our membership already reads like a Who’s Who of the ICT industry, with over 700 private companies as members.

So my dream is that every country will have in the foreseeable future a national broadband plan. If this happens, it will be a win-win situation for everyone. No one loses. I especially want to see governments driving some key national applications such as e-health and e-learning to prime the spread of broadband everywhere, and private sector companies given the opportunity to invest more in developing the necessary infrastructure.

We need to make sure that ICT tools are at the disposal of every citizen of the planet, and ITU can and must put in the necessary framework to do this. Broadband is the important economic development of our lifetimes. We need to get the right policy and regulatory frameworks in place to see it implemented. But it is part of a bigger picture still. I tell the Heads of State I meet around the world: ‘Dream, but dream big. We are in an industry that is driven by one ingredient: brainpower. It is equally distributed everywhere, and no nation has a monopoly on it’.




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