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ITU SG Toure speech on WCIT
The following speech was given ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré to staff on 6 June 2012. It was published - unusually - in response to an aggressive campaign by the US government that pointed to the WCIT conference in December as containing threats by the United Nations to take over control of the Internet.
Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré
World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12)
Remarks to ITU Staff on WCIT-12
06 June 2012, Geneva, Switzerland
I have called this meeting because you are all no doubt increasingly aware of the great importance of the World Conference on International Telecommunications, WCIT-12, which will be taking place in Dubai in December.
I say ‘increasingly’, because unlike some of our work – and even some of our most important work – which passes under the radar screens of the global media, this particular conference, WCIT-12, is very much in the public eye.
And there seems to be a concerted campaign – especially in some quarters – to imply that WCIT-12 is all about ITU, or the United Nations, trying to take over the Internet.
I have called you here this afternoon to reassure you on two very important points:
The first point is that we are not about to take over the Internet – that suggestion is frankly ridiculous.
We are not going to send in the blue helmets of the UN peacekeepers to police IXPs! And we are certainly not ready to make a grab for global domination.
Clearly, telecommunications today are changing very fast, and we now use our mobile phones for far more than just making phone calls.
Today, we can access a huge range of services including TV, location-based services, social networks and an entire universe of online content over the Internet from smart phones, tablets or computers.
The information and knowledge made available by the Internet are global public goods of value to us all, and are now accessible to some 2.4 billion Internet users the world over.
So we all want to make sure that all the billions of mobile phone subscribers will be ultimately using it – indeed all seven billion people on this planet – that’s our ultimate goal; that’s our challenge: Internet for all the world’s people.
So last week’s debates about the UN taking over Internet Governance were both ridiculous and most unfortunate. These two worlds need to work together to make the world a better place.
I always compare this to roads, and cars and trucks. It is not because you own the roads that you own the traffic. And you may not be able to make the traffic flow smoothly. You need to know the height, and weight and breadth and be involved in designing some of the features so the bridges don’t collapse. Those two analogies are very important and we need to find a way to have a meaningful debate about this, without one taking over the other.
Let us not forget that ITU is a technically-oriented organization; it has never been a politically orientated organization, and I hope we stay that way.
So the real issue on the table here is not at all about who ‘runs’ the Internet – and there are in fact no proposals on the table concerning this for WCIT-12. The issue instead is on how best to cooperate to ensure the free flow of information, the continued development of broadband, continued investment, and continuing innovation.
We all agree that the benefits of ICTs should be brought to all citizens of the world, and we all need to work together to achieve that goal.
The second point – and this has been obscured by recent media reports, to some extent – is even more crucial: WCIT-12 is a very important event that has the potential to make the world a better place for all; something we can all be pleased and proud of, and something we can do for our children and for the world’s children.
Concerning these important points, and in the interests of increasing transparency to all stakeholders – including the industry, media and civil society – we will be proposing a number of actions to Council in July for its consideration and approval. This should help counteract certain allegations and explain exactly what WCIT is all about.
I would also like us all to be reminded of an absolutely fundamental fact which sometimes gets overlooked:
- ITU is an organization of 193 governments and some 700 private sector entities, and now academia, supported by us – the Secretariat.
- It is the membership that determines the organization’s position on issues – not us the Secretariat.
Our industry – the Information and Communications Technology sector –has delivered, and will continue to deliver, profound and lasting social and economic benefits to our world.
The ICT sector has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure and services and created millions of jobs globally – and in the process has largely succeeded in bridging the digital divide.
In just twenty years or so we have seen an extraordinary transition from a world where most people did not have access to even basic telecommunications, to a world where we have more than six billion mobile cellular subscriptions, and where over 2.4 billion people use the Internet.
The creation of a hyperconnected world has been thanks in part to the hard work which has gone on here, at ITU, and we should all be proud of the way that connectivity has been brought within reach of virtually all the world’s people.
Inaccurate stories in the media have obscured some crucial facts about WCIT-12, and I would like to highlight some of these this afternoon:
- WCIT-12 will review the treaty that is the basis of today’s connected world: the International Telecommunication Regulations, known for short as the ITRs. They underpin how we communicate with each other by phone or computer, by voice, video or data, and across the globe.
- The ITRs were agreed in 1988 at the World Administrative Telegraph and Telephone Conference in Melbourne, Australia, and came into force in 1990. One of the four treaties forming the foundation of ITU’s mission, the ITRs is an international treaty to which 178 countries are bound.
- Treaty-level provisions are required for worldwide networks and services. The ITRs set out principles for ensuring that networks can connect with each other smoothly, and that international services will be offered in a fair and efficient manner.
- The current ITRs paved the way for market liberalization and the spectacular growth that we have seen in our sector – including the ‘mobile miracle’.
ITU’s membership did a great job of preparing for future needs in 1988 – and we are confident that they will do so again in 2012.
- So WCIT-12 – just like the 1988 conference – has every potential to be the catalyst for the future development of ICTs.
- In the broadest terms, this means governments and industry will come together in Dubai to lay the foundations for a broadband-enabled future – for everyone.
- Let me say once again that this is not something that the ITU Secretariat is driving. The process is driven by our membership – in particular in the Council Working Group, and the regional preparatory meetings which have taken place and will continue in all the regions – all of which are open to the full ITU membership. The Council Working Group will conclude its report to the conference at its final meeting here in Geneva in two weeks time.
- And let’s not forget that the ITU, like the UN, is made up of all Member States. As the ITU Secretary-General, my mandate and work programme comes from the entire membership and not from any particular special interests or individual parties.
- ITU provides a global platform for all governments to debate these issues – and this is what our members have asked for: indeed, they have instructed us to hold the WCIT-12 event, and that is why we are doing so.
ITU’s membership needs to reach consensus on balanced and predictable rules to ensure fair competition and to stimulate innovation and the spread ICTs.
One of the many important issues that may be addressed at WCIT will be the question of how we ensure that there is sufficient investment in broadband network infrastructure.
At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, the GSMA estimated that US$ 800 billion would be needed in mobile infrastructure investment by 2015 to handle the rapidly-growing demands of mobile broadband users.
These massive investments will help bring the Internet to billions of people in the developing world – as well as to the rural and remote areas of many developed countries.
This will not just improve services to these communities, of course, but will also help create local new job opportunities.
Unfortunately, many national policy and regulatory regimes were not designed with the current shift from voice to data-centric networks and services in mind.
And, the current ITRs are not properly equipped to deal with this challenge either, which raises the question of how all this new infrastructure will be paid for?
ITU is working to adapt to this changing landscape, by leveraging tools such as infrastructure sharing, spectrum allocation, licensing regimes and so on.
I am pleased to note that the recent World Radiocommunication Conference, WRC-12, made important advances in this regard.
Mobile broadband requirements were addressed in some detail – and the decisions of WRC-12 in this respect are a clear message to governments and industry of the importance placed by membership on making broadband accessible to all.
Other proposed changes or additions to the ITRs can be summarized under the following headings, and there are background briefs available on each of these on our website; I would strongly recommend staff consult these briefs. The main issues are:
- Human right of access to communications;
- Security in the use of ICTs;
- Protection of critical national resources;
- International frameworks;
- Charging and accounting, including taxation;
- Interconnection and interoperability;
- Quality of service; and
In closing, let me say that concerning WCIT-12, expectations are high, but the stakes are even higher. Failure is not an option.
The conference must find a fair way to finance the broadband infrastructure the world needs – and create the conditions for a new era of ICT-enabled growth and opportunity for billions of people around the world.
WCIT has the potential to make the world a better place for all the world’s people.
That’s a fine ambition, and one we can all be proud of.
So let’s get it right – for the benefit of all – and let’s be proud of the work we do here at ITU.