Nº 10 2012 > World Conference on International Telecommunications | Special report
The critical role of ICT in development
A historic opening
The opening of WCIT‑12 closely coincided with the 41st anniversary of the United Arab Emirates, marking its founding on 2 December 1971. “We celebrate this under the spirit of our father the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the spirit that has established our close ties and enabled unity and solidarity and has reflected peace and love in our relations with the world,” said Mohamed Al-Ghanim, in his opening address as Chairman of the conference (see structure of the conference. Mr Al-Ghanim expressed the hope that the same spirit would “facilitate the work of WCIT‑12 and contribute as much as possible to playing the role of consensus between the parties in resolving the important issues for the benefit of everyone”.
Thanking the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of the United Arab Emirates for the tremendous facilities and the efficient staff and support they provided, Dr Touré said: “Dubai is one of the most modern cities in the world; a city which has grown to become a wonderful symbol of Emirati culture and progress and a city which can rightly claim to be one of the greatest symbols of human achievement in the modern world.”
United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a video message to the conference, underlined the power of ICT that continues to transform our world. “The Arab Spring showed the power of ICT to help people voice their legitimate demands for human rights and greater accountability. As we strive to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and shape the post-2015 development agenda, you here at this conference are well placed to help further unleash the benefits of ICT while promoting an environment that drives innovation,” said Mr Ban.
The UN Secretary-General went on to emphasize that the management of information and communication technology should be transparent, democratic and inclusive of all stakeholders, adding that he was pleased that steps had been taken “to open the process — including the vital voices of civil society and the private sector”.
“The United Nations system stands behind the goal of an open Internet, and the right to communicate is central to the ITU’s mission,” said Mr Ban. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom of expression across all media and all frontiers.”
Referring to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in two phases, in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005, which affirmed that the free flow of information and ideas is essential for peace, development and progress, Mr Ban stressed to delegates that these freedoms are not up for negotiation. “We must continue to work together and find consensus on how to most effectively keep cyberspace open, accessible, affordable and secure,” adding that he trusted that governments, industry and civil society would rise to the occasion.
Dr Touré said that one of the most persistent myths concerned freedom of expression, where there had been suggestions that WCIT‑12 might in some way act to restrict the open and free flow of information. “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression and this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” said Dr Touré. “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.”
Cooperation between ITU and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
In the run-up to WCIT‑12, ITU had made every effort to ensure that all stakeholders were heard in order to make the debate on the reform of the ITRs as inclusive as possible. As part of the multistakeholder approach, Dr Touré had invited the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Fadi Chehadé, and Steve Crocker, ICANN’s Board Chairman, to attend WCIT‑12.
Thanking them for accepting the invitation, Dr Touré said: “This is a great opportunity for our two communities to reach out to one another,” adding that he looked forward to the exciting opportunities that lay ahead and to all that can be achieved by ITU and ICANN working 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.”
Appearing at what he described as a historic opening ceremony, ICANN President Fadi Chehadé, said: “I am here because I believe in the power of engagement and engagement starts with listening.” Mr Chehadé went on to state that there was a new period of cooperation between ICANN and ITU, which had started at a meeting with Dr Touré at the Internet Governance Forum, held in Baku, Azerbaijan, in November 2012.
“I recognize ITU’s deep impact on the development of the telecommunication industry, and the broadband infrastructure from which we all benefit every day, especially in the developing world — the world I come from,” said Mr Chehadé. “ITU and ICANN have complementary roles and, moving forward, we shall cooperate in good spirit, while clearly respecting our distinct roles.” He added: “When I started at ICANN, I said we could build organizations either as fortresses or as oases. I invite you to make our organizations an open oasis. Oases are open and vital. Let’s remove the walls, open the windows, and build organizations that are welcoming and transparent.”
Australia’s pioneering role recognized
Dr Touré also welcomed Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, who he singled out “not just because of Australia’s tremendous achievements in broadband, or because of his great work on the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, but also because the conference that originally discussed the ITRs took place in Melbourne, Australia, in 1988, and set the stage for the information society”.