Nº 9 2012 > Editorial
Shaping the future
Debates and decisions in Dubai
Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary‑General
We are looking forward to seeing all our members actively participating in three ITU world events that will take place back to back in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Global Standards Symposium
The first event is the Global Standards Symposium, on 19 November, which will bring together ministers, regulators, heads of other standards bodies, and industry leaders to discuss global standards challenges — especially the way the information and communication technology (ICT) sector intersects with vertical sectors such as health care, utilities and transport.
World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly
Straight afterwards comes the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly, WTSA‑12, which will set the programme and priorities for the ITU’s Standardization Sector for the next four years.
This Special Edition of ITU News highlights ITU’s standardization achievements since the last Assembly, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2008.
World Conference on International Telecommunications
WTSA‑12 will be followed by the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT‑12), running from 3 to 14 December, which has the crucial task of reviewing the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs). These regulations were forward-looking when they were adopted in Melbourne in 1988, setting the stage for the mobile revolution and the information society.
At the request of our membership, important topics to be discussed at WCIT‑12 include affordability — reducing the cost of international mobile roaming; how to prevent fraud; misuse of the telephone numbering system; the empowerment of consumers; and perhaps most importantly, finding ways of bringing Internet connectivity to the two-thirds of the global population that is still offline.
No proposals will be accepted if they are not agreed by consensus — this is the ITU way, which has proven extraordinarily successful throughout the Union’s almost 150 years of existence.
WCIT‑12 has already attracted enormous interest and media coverage — but not always for the right reasons. Let me take this opportunity to summarize the key issues — and to dispel some of the persistent myths surrounding the conference.
Contrary to some of the sensationalist claims in the press, WCIT‑12 is definitively not about taking control of the Internet, especially in terms of the management of the Internet’s critical resources, such as names and addresses. Also WCIT‑12 is not in any way about restricting people’s freedom of expression or freedom of speech.
WCIT‑12 is about laying down the principles to ensure global connectivity — not global Internet governance.
The 1988 ITRs still provide the only truly globally agreed principles on international telecommunications — to which 178 countries are officially bound. By advocating market liberalization, the current ITRs laid the foundations for the growth of the Internet and mobile telephony. Researchers in America and Europe invented the Internet, and the ITRs helped the Internet to grow exponentially — by establishing clear, mutually agreed principles for what has become a global public good.
My role as Secretary-General of ITU — and the role of the ITU secretariat — is simply to facilitate the dialogue. We will provide an impartial forum where all of the substantive issues can be debated.
Simply put, WCIT‑12 is about the free flow of information; promoting affordable and equitable access for all, including people with disabilities; the continued development of broadband — including an increased focus on energy efficiency; continuing investment in networks, services and applications; and continuing promotion of a harmonious and conducive international environment that drives innovation. WCIT‑12 is where these fundamental challenges can be openly debated in search of solutions that are acceptable to all.
There have also been misleading statements in the press claiming that ITU maintains a relatively closed, non-transparent decision-making process. But ITU is no more and no less than its membership: 193 Member States and some 700 Sector Members, including both private-sector organizations and academic institutions. All have access to ITU documents — and most Member States make ITU documents available to their citizens. The mechanism for circulating information is quite rightly left to ITU’s membership — and it is they who decide how and when documents should be made public.
At its annual session in July 2012, the ITU Council agreed to make the main preparatory document for WCIT‑12 public, and authorized me to set up a web consultation to collect views and opinions from the public. But very few comments have been posted to that public website.
The unproductive scaremongering and rhetoric around WCIT‑12 is reminiscent of the similar scaremongering and rhetoric in the run-up to the 1988 conference that created the present ITRs. These fears subsequently turned out to be completely unfounded, as the ITRs have been the driver of a harmonious market ecosystem for investment and innovation.
From a regulatory perspective — in a networked society — it seems clear that our members do not want heavy-handed regulation or a return to the old days of accounting rates and government-controlled telecommunications. But they do seem to be in agreement that new high-level principles are needed, and that there should be coordination and consolidation between agencies at both the national and international levels.
WCIT‑12 has the potential to bring ICT within affordable reach of all of the planet’s seven billion people; deliver sustainable social and economic development in every country, on every continent; to open up new streams of revenue for businesses; and to promote the creation of new business models.
The 1988 ITRs provided the foundations for massive growth in telecommunications, including the so-called “mobile miracle”, and set us on the road to the information society of today. I firmly believe that WCIT‑12 will create the right conditions for a “broadband miracle”, and will set us on the road to the knowledge society of tomorrow.