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The opening ceremony of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT‑12), running from December 3 to 14, 2012 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), was addressed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon via video; Mohamed Nasser Al-Ghanim, Director-General of the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and Chairman of the Conference; Fadi Chehadé, President and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); and ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré.
WCIT-12 has the crucial task of reviewing the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs). These regulations were adopted at the World Administrative Telegraph and Telephone Conference in Melbourne, Australia, in 1988. They paved the way for the phenomenal growth we have witnessed across the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. “In 1988, there were just 4.3 million mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide. Today there are over six billion – representing growth of over one thousand-fold! In 1988, hardly anybody was online. Today we are approaching 2.5 billion users of the Internet. WCIT is about making sure that we connect the billion people without access to mobile telephony. And that we connect the 4.5 billion people who are still offline,” Dr Touré said.
Highlighting these figures, Dr Touré added: “Not only were the 1988 ITRs instrumental in enabling rapid growth in the ICT sector, but they also made possible the global deployment of the Internet – and many other ITU activities continue to be essential components of Internet growth.”
He pointed out that ITU standards are used every day in the Internet. These include standards for end-user access equipment, such as modems – including xDSL and cable modems; compression standards; security standards – including standards to combat spam; standards for backbone networks – including optical fibre; and the radio frequencies used to implement Wi-Fi.
Paying homage to the openness, innovation, pragmatism, freedom of expression and multi-stakeholderism that has helped the Internet become the important global public resource it is today, Dr Touré stated: “I think we can all agree that the Internet is a valuable global public resource which every citizen in the world should be able to benefit from.”
WCIT-12 is an excellent demonstration of ITU as the original multi-stakeholder organization. “All stakeholders are well represented here in Dubai, with national delegations comprising representatives from government, industry and civil society, as well as technical and legal experts – making this a fully-inclusive conference, ” Dr Touré said.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls for consensus on how to most effectively keep cyberspace open, accessible, affordable and secure
United Nations 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,” Mr Ban stated.
Mr Ban went on to underline 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. The right to communicate is central to the ITU’s mission. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom of expression across all media and all frontiers,” Mr Ban said.
Referring to the World Summit on the Information Society, which affirmed that the free flow of information and ideas is essential for peace, development, and progress, Mr Ban stressed 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. I trust that together – governments, industry and civil society will rise to this occasion,” Mr Ban told delegates.
The United Arab Emirates welcome the world to Dubai
Mohamed Nasser Al-Ghanim said that the “United Arab Emirates throughout its history is a living example of coexistence between different cultures and races and formed the ideal destination to embrace everyone, without exception.” The opening of WCIT-12 almost 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. We aspire today that the same spirit of our union will facilitate the work of WCIT-12 and contribute as much as possible to play the role of consensus between the parties in resolving the important issues for the benefit of everyone and work on the conclusion of the final acts and appropriate decisions for the global community,” Mr Al-Ghanim added.
The UAE was among the first countries in the region to invest heavily in ICT. “It is the belief of our government’s commitment to provide the best technical services in the country, and beyond that we strongly believe that the time has now come to work towards the future understanding that the economy is now very much dependent on ICT,” Mr Al-Ghanim commented.
Highlighting the importance of WCIT-12 for his country, he said: “We are proud to host ICT experts from around the world, to participate in an event which is the most prominent of its kind on the international calendar of events in the field of information and communication technology. This conference, which comes after a long period of time since the last conference in 1988 in Melbourne, Australia, is an essential platform for all of us to talk about how we can commit that responsibility to the people that are looking to us, whether we are governments, service providers, or industry leaders.”
Mr Al-Ghanim welcomed delegates to the land of the United Arab Emirates, in the hope that they “can all find new ways to make our world better and that the future for all members of society holds hopes and aspirations”.
A new season of cooperation between ICANN and ITU
Addressing what he described as a “historic opening ceremony”, Fadi Chehadé said “I am here because I believe in the power of engagement. Engagement starts with listening” – He went on to say that it is a new season of engagement at ICANN, and for cooperation between ICANN and ITU, which started recently at a meeting with Dr Touré at the Internet Governance Forum in Baku.
“I recognize the ITU’s deep impact on the development of the telecommunication industry, and the broadband infrastructure of which we all benefit every day, especially in the developing world – the world I come from. The ITU and ICANN have complementary roles; and moving forward, we shall cooperate in good spirit, while clearly respecting our distinct roles. I therefore join my fellow Internet organizations, ISOC (the Internet Society), IETF (the Internet Engineering Task Force), the regional Internet registries, in our continued deep commitment to service the world’s needs for Internet governance.
To conclude Mr Chehadé 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.”
Dr Touré thanked the President and CEO of ICANN and Steve Crocker, ICANN’s Chairman, for accepting the invitation to come to WCIT. “This is a great opportunity for our two communities to reach out to one another. ”
Dr Touré said he looked forward to the exciting opportunities that lie ahead and all that can be achieved by ITU and ICANN 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.”
He also welcomed Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the 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”.
ITU Secretary-General highlights key topics where compromise looks promising
Compromise is expected on several key topics including broadband investment – to ensure that there is sufficient infrastructure to handle massively increasing demand for bandwidth; energy efficiency; accessibility; security; unsolicited content, or spam; number misuse; roaming; reducing taxation – we cannot have heavy taxation for something which underpins all other areas of economic activity; price transparency (non-discriminatory pricing); the fostering of competitive and liberalized telecommunication markets; and freedom of expression – nothing can stop freedom of expression, and certainly not this conference.
Dr Touré appealed to delegates to remember throughout the conference, the opening words of the Charter of the United Nations: “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind … and for these ends, to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours and to unite our strength to maintain peace and security.”
Unlike elections, which by definition are win-lose, successful negotiations are always win-win. Underlining this nuance, Dr Touré said: “I look forward to seeing how the spirit of consensus, the spirit of compromise, and the spirit of multi-stakeholderism will come together to deliver that win-win solution.”
Saying that the time had come to build and that the conference will succeed, Dr Touré quoted Nelson Mandela former President of South Africa, who once said: “The time for the healing of wounds has come.” “The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.” “The time to build is upon us.”
Importance of the ITRs
The Chairman of the Conference, Mohammed Nasser Al-Ghanim, addressing the opening Plenary, pointed out that “WCIT occupies a special place in the ICT industry, on account of the significant and indeed radical developments and changes witnessed by the industry during the past two decades, which have not been matched by any changes in the International Telecommunication Regulations that have governed the industry at the global level since 1988.” Hence the need to update and develop the regulations to reflect this evolution, the Chairman observed, underlining that “the topics to be discussed at this conference are both extremely important and highly sensitive, and require us to cooperate fully to forge a compromise in the common interest of all countries of the world.”
Dr Touré stated that the current ITRs established milestone principles of public service; acknowledged the right of users to communicate by accessing networks; and recognized the right to operate free from harm to technical facilities. “The ITRs also enabled the transition from the traditional settlement system to the new bilateral commercial agreements that have served us well for the past two decades, and which set the stage for the stellar growth in the exchange of international telecoms traffic – encompassing both voice and data.
Bringing the benefits of broadband to all the world’s people
Dr Touré urged delegates to consider how best to adapt Article 6, dealing with financial matters, so that it will help to achieve the desired goal of bringing the benefits of broadband to all the world’s people.
“In a global village, where commerce goes quickly beyond national borders, and where we can all choose to buy products and services from other countries, to suit our tastes and our pocketbooks.
In a global village, where my grandchildren can watch videos online at their home in New York which have been uploaded by their friends in Europe or Africa or Asia.
In a global village, where health workers in even the remotest regions can consult the vast wealth of information and even other specialists online when making diagnoses and prescribing treatment.
If a country does not have adequate ICT infrastructure – and that must include broadband, in the 21st century – then it simply cannot participate in the global market.”
Everybody’s voice is heard
Dr Touré told delegates that ITU has made every effort in the run-up to this conference to ensure that everyone can have a say and that everybody’s voice is heard. “And indeed over the past weeks and months we have heard from all sides and all stakeholders. There has been a very healthy debate, which has spread through the online and print media, and across the web through blogs and social media sites.”
Dispelling myths created around WCIT-12
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.
But as he reminded delegates, in Article 33 of the ITU Constitution, Member States recognize the right of the public to correspond by means of the international service of public correspondence. And the ITRs cannot, he stressed, contradict that provision, or indeed any other article in the ITU Constitution. This concept is paralleled in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which he quoted:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” 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.
In this regard, Dr Touré welcomed the proposal from Tunisia and others to include a provision on freedom of expression in the ITRs.
“Fears have also been expressed that new provisions in updated ITRs might help to legitimize government censorship. And I fully agree that this should not happen. This conference will not stand in the way of the need to protect the right of the freedom of expression, the right to communicate, and the right to privacy.”
None of these freedoms can exist without security – especially in the online world. “If you – your personal information, your banking details and even your identity – are not secure, then how can you use ICT with trust and confidence? So let me urge you to work together in good faith to achieve a sound, reliable and honourable compromise. So that we can all benefit from: cyber-resilience instead of cyber-threats; cybersecurity instead of cybercrime; and cyberpeace instead of cyberwar,” urged the Secretary-General.
Affordability remains a big barrier for the billions of people around the world who are still offline. “We all know that the cost of connectivity is too high in most developing countries. And not just in developing countries. We are also well aware that international mobile roaming prices in many parts of the world are still far too high. We all want to see greater Internet usage across the world. And I presume we all want consumers to feel that they are getting good value for money when they roam. We will find ways to bring down the cost of Internet connectivity, while ensuring sufficient revenues for operators to deploy broadband infrastructure. And we will find ways to ensure that both customers and operators feel that roaming prices are fair and reasonable.”
All people, from all regions of the world, have a right to participate in the knowledge society and the dawning digital economy. This includes people, no matter where they come from. This includes people, no matter what their personal circumstances. And this includes the 650 million people worldwide living with a disability of some kind.
Highlighting the importance of connecting those who are still offline, the Secretary-General reminded delegates that it is their moral duty “to recognize the vital importance of measures to promote access to broadband around the world, in all countries and in all regions – and to help deliver total inclusion.” In this context, he cited George Washington, one of America’s founding fathers, who once said: “Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”
Describing the work ahead as intense, constructive and productive, the Secretary-General said that the conference might sometimes struggle to find agreement.
“But let us not confuse differences of opinion about the way ahead with differences of opinion about our common goal. Indeed, we will welcome differences of opinion, as we have always done. Here in Dubai, we will not see clashes between people, but friction between minds. And as we all know, from friction comes light. The light that will help us see our common goal.”
That goal is “To build a knowledge society – where everyone, whatever their circumstances, can access, use, create and share information,” the Secretary-General underlined, adding “We have the power to create a brave new world, where social and economic justice prevails. So let’s get to work!”
General principles agreed
There was general agreement during the Plenary that the outcome of the conference, and the updated ITRs, should be technology neutral and should contain high-level guiding principles. They should also be consistent with the preamble and Article 1 of the Constitution. Discussion then followed on a more specific subject; recognized operating agencies and operating agencies, which will be continued at the next plenary session.