ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao delivered a State of the Union speech today for the global audience of delegates assembled on Day 1 of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2018 (PP-18), the highest decision-making body of the United Nations specialized agency for ICTs. Below are his remarks, which lay out how ITU has adjusted to a rapidly changing information and communication technology (ICT) landscape.
Today is an important day in the life of our ITU family and for the state of information and communication technology. PP-18, the 20th Plenipotentiary Conference of our history, is an opportunity to take stock of our journey and chart our next steps.
Earlier this morning in Japan, the United Arab Emirates launched its ninth “Khalifa Sat” into orbit. Congratulations to the UAE Space Agency, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre and TRA on this satellite launch. It is a nice gift from our host country to PP-18 and a testimony to the UAE’s vision to connect people.
The world of technology is changing rapidly, and ITU is changing with it. In 2015, we were together to celebrate ITU’s 150th anniversary – over 150 years of ICT technologies and services in the service of human development.
Today, we are proud to welcome a new Member State to our Union: the Republic of Palau. Please join me in giving the Palauan delegation a warm welcome!
The ITU family has grown over the past four years, welcoming new private sector members that reflect the changing nature of our digital economy. Google, Alibaba, Facebook, Tencent, Netflix. But also Sigfox, China Tower, Hyundai, and many others. ITU has also welcomed new members from academia.
What brings all these Members to ITU is what brings us all together here today, namely how to provide better ICT services to the people and deliver on the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“Innovation and standardization are part of the fabric of ITU.”
Over the last four years, ITU has been at the forefront of this revolution. We’ve been working on issues ranging from artificial intelligence, smart cities, and digital currency to the Internet of Things, new television, and 5G standards. And we have facilitated ICT infrastructure development.
One place to start is with radio communications. The World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 successfully responded to the increasing demands for the use of radio spectrum and orbit resources.
WRC-19 will further address these demands by considering new allocations and identifications for IMT, High Altitude Platforms, and non-geostationary satellites systems. Consensus is being built in its preparation to make it a new success for our Union.
Innovation and standardization are part of the fabric of ITU.
The Radiocommunication Assembly 2015 and the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly 2016 set the agenda for the vital standards work over the coming years. Yet all these new technologies put regulatory paradigms to the test, as regulators everywhere are trying to keep up with the fast pace of the industry.
On the development side, the World Telecommunication Development Conference 2017 strengthened the connection between technology and development, reaffirming the central role of ITU in leveraging ICT for the Sustainable Development Goals.
“Across the organization, we are modernizing how we work to better serve the needs of our Members.”
In this context, events like the Global Symposium for Regulators – and tools like the Measuring the Information Society and the ICT Development Index – help policymakers, industry leaders, and ICT stakeholders worldwide promote growth and development, while coping with new regulatory frontiers and new skills, development and innovation.
Other events like “International Girls in ICT Day,” “ITU Telecom World,” and the “AI for Good Global Summit” have helped foster an open environment for partnership in critical as areas such as gender, small and medium-sized enterprises, and artificial intelligence.
From the WSIS Forum to World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, all major annual ITU events since our last Plenipotentiary Conference have helped advance the objectives and strategic goals of the Union: growth, inclusiveness, sustainability, innovation, and partnership.
More and more, ITU is affirming its role as a key partner in development. We collaborate with sister UN agencies and others on important common projects, leveraging the power of ICT to accelerate progress towards the SDGs.
In this effort, ITU has tackled issues ranging from digital literacy to health to financial inclusion. We can be proud of what we are doing with organizations like the Broadband Commission to promote infrastructure development, ILO to train tomorrow’s workforce, and UN Women to bridge the digital gender divide with initiatives such as EQUALS.
ITU’s efforts have gained more international recognition. ITU is grateful to have participated in the first ICT ministerial meetings of BRICS in 2015, the G7 in 2016, and the G20 in 2017.
We will continue to deepen our cooperation with all our partners.
As Secretary-General, transparency, openness and efficiency have been high on my priority list. And that includes ensuring the most effective use of ITU’s limited resources.
Across the organization, we are modernizing how we work to better serve the needs of our Members. Management is making every effort to improve staff engagement and performance through the introduction of modern processes and policies. Efforts are being made to streamline and digitize internal processes.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge our Members’ steadfast commitment to the Union. Thank you for your continued trust and support. Thank you to the countries that have increased their class of contributory units, and to those who have hosted and contributed sponsorship to ITU events and meetings.
Thank you all for your decision to give ITU a new headquarters building – a new home and new image that will embody ITU’s identity and our commitment to connecting people. I would like to thank Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for their sponsorship, the Czech Republic for its donation, and encourage others to join them!
I wish to congratulate my fellow elected officials on their outstanding team spirit and ITU’s staff on their hard work and dedication to the mission of our Union.
I want to express my thanks on behalf of ITU to all those who took part in the regional preparatory meetings leading up to this day, and to the United Arab Emirates for hosting ITU’s highest-level meeting.
Finally, it is important to pay tribute to the delegates who have left us in the last four years.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are at a crossroads. As we approach the 50/50 milestone moment for Internet connectivity, far too many people around the world are still waiting to reap the benefits of the digital economy.
Most targets of our Connect 2020 Agenda are on track to be achieved. Now is the time to redouble our efforts. Now is the time to turn today’s digital revolution into a development revolution.
Let us continue our efforts to leverage the power of ICT to advance ITU’s Strategic Plan, WSIS Action Lines, Connect 2020, and the SDGs. And let us ensure that the activities of our Union continue to serve the people you represent, the mission we share, and the values we defend.
To this end, I urge you to focus our efforts on “4 Is”: Infrastructure, Investment, Innovation, and Inclusiveness. Four areas where we can have the most impact. And I am calling on you to work together over the next three weeks and beyond to upgrade existing ICT infrastructure and extend it to reach those in poorly connected and unconnected areas, encourage more investment from the public and private sectors and create a good environment to attract investments, and support technology and business innovation so that the digital revolution leaves no one behind.
Ladies and gentlemen,
PP-18 will set the course of our Union for the next four years, with the adoption of the ITU Strategic and Financial Plans. Many important topics have been submitted for discussion, and we should arrive at decisions by the conference’s end.
We have a heavy agenda and many tasks ahead of us. I would highly appreciate if this conference could guide ITU in strengthening its work on SMEs. Similarly, I am calling on you to help us reinforce the message that if ITU is a technical agency responsible for ICT services and technologies, it is also a development agency committed to reaching all those who are not yet connected.
I thank you for your attention and wish you great success in your endeavours at PP-18!