Nº 6 2015 > Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years
Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years
The history of ITU has been interwoven with some landmark inventions and innovations in communications over the past 150 years. In the 1850s, soon after Samuel Morse started a service in the United States, telegraph lines crossed national borders and new international agreements had to be forged. In 1865, twenty nations gathered in Paris to sign an international framework on 17 May, the treaty that established the basic principles for international telegraphy, laying the foundations for today’s era of international communications. The signing of the Convention established ITU, then known as the International Telegraph Union.
Paris celebrates 150th anniversary
Among the highlights of the year, was the commemoration of the signing of the International Telegraph Convention. France’s Minister of State for Foreign Trade Matthias Fekl hosted a reception on 27 April in the Salon d’Horloge on the Quai d’Orsay in Paris, where the signing ceremony had taken place in 1865. The highlight of this year’s event featured a display of the original Convention from the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development of France.
In 1932, ITU was renamed as the International Telecommunication Union in recognition of the technological evolution of telecommunication technology. The venue was Madrid where the Fifth Conference of the Plenipotentiaries was held.
Simultaneously, the Fourth International Radiotelegraph Conference met and decided to merge into a single entity. The Telegraph Convention of 1875 and the Radiotelegraph Convention of 1927 were combined into a single convention embracing the three fields of telegraphy, telephony and radio. The new International Telecommunication Convention established at the Madrid Conference served as the Union’s charter and constitution, establishing its legal existence and setting forth its purposes, compositions, structure and functions.
Spanish Senate marks renaming of ITU
On 5 May this year, His Majesty Don Felipe VI, King of Spain presided over a glittering ceremony in the Spanish Senate to mark ITU’s 150th anniversary.
“The digital world has emerged as one of the most important instruments of cooperation and development to expand access to many disadvantaged communities and to benefits such as knowledge, health and democracy, which are key regions and improve quality of life the citizens,” His Majesty King Don Felipe said, noting that digitization is indeed a transforming force that affects all sectors and industries. “But technology should help not only to build a more competitive and productive economy, but also one that is more fair; an economy that generates greater opportunities for employment, training and access to public services.”
“I was very privileged to have been in Madrid for this historic commemoration and to listen to His Majesty the King,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “It was a great honour for ITU.”
A focus on innovation
ITU celebrated its 150th anniversary with great fanfare throughout 2015 with a focus on ICTs as drivers of innovation.
In a rapidly evolving global ICT environment, fostering growth and innovation at all levels — from policy-makers and industry to academia and civil society — is critical in meeting the aspirations of end-users and people around the world as we embrace the digital era. Innovative ICTs and broadband access are now recognized as key factors in achieving an environmentally sound and sustainable future in the post-2015 era. Innovative measures can bridge the digital divide between countries, between cities and rural areas, and those living in differing socio-economic levels, while providing a host of new opportunities.
ITU’s 150th anniversary focuses attention on our accomplishments. As the specialized agency of the United Nations for information and communication technologies, we can now look ahead at driving innovation in ICTs together with our 193 Member States and a membership of over 700 private sector entities and academic institutions.
Well-wishers from around the world joined ITU in marking this historical occasion.
ITU celebrates 150th anniversary along with 70th anniversary of the UN
United Nations Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon congratulated ITU on its 150th anniversary. “ITU has earned its global reputation for resilience and relevance and I applaud the agency’s many contributions as the oldest member in the United Nations system,” Mr Ban said. “ICTs can help achieve its goal of a life of dignity for all. New information and communication technologies can help boost the economy and protect the environment. This is a milestone year — the 150th anniversary of ITU, the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, and the potential starting year for transforming our world. Let us work together to harness the power of technology for our common future.”
As the oldest member of the United Nations family, ITU also celebrated with the rest of the world to mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations on 24 October. ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao joined a host of dignitaries at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Mark Müller, at the inauguration of the “Rebirth” sculpture by renowned Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto. He also visited the ITU stand, which presented live demonstrations showcasing ICTs to the multitude of visitors, young and old, who came to see how the United Nations worked to improve the wellbeing of present and future generations.
Global celebrations in 2015
The 150th anniversary celebrations kicked off in January 2015 in the presence of the international community and Permanent Representatives of Member States to the United Nations in Geneva. An interactive ITU historical timeline was launched on a custom-built website highlighting key dates in ITU’s history from its founding on 17 May 1865 until the present. A toolkit provided campaign materials, resources and instructions to get involved in ITU’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
A special section of the website is dedicated to a story-telling campaign with a personal story around the theme of the month (see the following 150th monthly theme stories), supplemented with a diverse range of related content, including videos, podcasts, webinars, infographics, and social media.
On 13 February, ITU hosted World Radio Day, held concurrently at UNESCO in Paris, to mark the anniversary of the first broadcast by UN Radio in 1946, when it transmitted its first call sign: “This is the United Nations calling the peoples of the world.” World Radio Day seeks to raise awareness about the importance of radio, facilitate access to information through radio, and enhance networking among broadcasters. This year, in line with ITU’s 150th anniversary, World Radio Day highlighted the theme, “Youth and Innovation in Radio”, looking ahead to new and innovative means to connect the world. It featured a live global broadcast of panel discussions coordinated by the European Broadcasting Union, call-ins from radio journalists covering breaking news of the day, radio features and an international concert by the UN Jazz Ensemble. A Radio Hackathon over nearly 24 hours brought together technology buffs working on coding, hacking, building and breaking.
Anniversary celebrations on 17 May
The 150th anniversary celebrations took centre stage with a mid-year climax on 17 May with a glittering ceremony in Geneva.
ITU accorded recognition to the Founding Member States that signed the convention in 1865. With the re-drawing of national borders over the years, the original twenty are now represented by sixteen countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey. Long-standing industry members were also recognized, including Telecom Italia (hailing back to 1925), Exelis and Telefónica (since 1929), and Sirti (1931).
The ITU 150 Awards were presented to eminent laureates who have contributed to ITU’s work: Martin Cooper, Robert E. Kahn, Mark I. Krivocheev, Ken Sakamura, and Thomas Wiegand. Bill Gates was given special recognition for his contributions and his ongoing work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A panel discussion focusing on ICTs as drivers of a sustainable future, anchored by BBC correspondent Imogen Foulkes, brought in key thinkers and doers: Philip Walton, COO, BRCK; Luis Von Ahn, CEO & founder, DuoLingo; Gabriela Styf Sjöman, CTO, Telecom Italia Group; Jian Wang, CTO, Alibaba; and Ulf Ewaldsson, CTO, Ericsson.
The 150th anniversary was generously sponsored by Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Other sponsors included, Côte d’Ivoire’s Telecommunications/ICT Regulatory Body; Ghana’s Ministry of Communications; Zimbabwe’s Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority; Inmarsat Global Limited; Close Joint-Stock Company National Radio Technical Bureau; Huawei Technologies; Rostelecom; Rohde & Schwarz; Central African Republic’s Telecommunications Regulatory Agency; and NTT Group.
ITU’s 150th anniversary has been celebrated worldwide and some 150 initiatives have been posted on the ITU 150 website, including the issuing of postage stamps in several countries, such as Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Egypt, Gambia, Georgia, Hungary, Indonesia, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Moldova, Monaco, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Uruguay and the Vatican State.