A key element of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) is to connect the people around the world who are not yet connected. These are people in developing economies, but also people in rural areas within developed economies, as well as the 650 million people with disabilities.
The question is whether the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) that are being discussed at WCIT can assist in this. If we go back to 1988, when the current ITRs were first established, the focus was on access and interoperability. At that time many countries didn't have the level of connectivity that they have now, 25 years later. It can be argued that the ITRs have done their job as we now have a very well-interconnected world; not just via telephony, but also in relation to the internet and other data services.
So as a starting point we could say that the current ITRs have worked well so far, and so there is no reason why they shouldn't also assist in extending access and interoperability to those not yet connected. The ITRs that are presently in place can benefit all. However, the job that has to be done now involves those not yet connected. That is a national issue that, of course, can be done with international assistance, but not by increasing fees through the ITRs — the ITRs cannot be used to solve all the problems of the world. WCIT can assist on a high strategic level to separate the issues at hand and assist in engaging with other organisations within the multi-stakeholder environment to find the best spots where these issues can be addressed.
With the ITRs doing their job one could argue that it is now up to the industries in these countries, and their governments, to further develop the digital economy. In the end, this is where the social and economic benefits will come from that will, among other things such as improved healthcare and education services, also lead to new investments that can then be used to build out the national digital infrastructure.
So the question is how WCIT can assist in creating viable digital economies in those countries that are not yet connected, or are having problems doing so? Rather than taxing infrastructure, which would have a detrimental effect on the development of the digital economy, one could look at more positive approaches — for example, assisting countries to develop the appropriate structures to enable them to use the infrastructure more efficiently; in other words, how to save money or cut, rather than increase, costs.
As international traffic is an important cost element, building local internet exchanges, data centres, content hosting and storage facilities to create the most efficient platform for the digital economy is essential, aimed at creating the most efficient flow of traffic, and once again saving costs. This could be addressed in either a regional or a national context. There are already good regional cooperative ICT models in place around the world that could become the pilot projects for such an approach.
Developing the digital economy should be done in a well-ordered manner — for example, first concentrating on emergency services, healthcare, education, etc.
At the opening of WCIT the Secretary-General of the ITU, Dr Hamadoun Touré, announced a new dawn of cooperation between the telecommunications world and the internet world. Here is a golden opportunity to put flesh on the bone of the multi-stakeholder cooperation announced by the ITU and ICANN, by establishing a cooperative model, together with ISOG and others, to look into how the combined industry can assist in connecting the unconnected world citizens, both in relation to knowledge transfer to those countries/regions and helping to find the right investment models for this. It would be great if WCIT could come up with a recommendation along these lines.
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