Emerging Trends | ICT4SDG | SDG17
June 18, 2019

How we can foster digital cooperation in the ‘age of interdependence’

By Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are transforming our world. They are providing unprecedented opportunities to improve lives.

However, our digital future must be safer and more inclusive.

That’s why I am pleased to see the launch of new tech report, “the Age of Digital Interdependence”, released by the United Nations High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation that was launched last year by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Delegates assembled for the annual ITU Council received a briefing Monday about the Report from Fabrizio Hochschild, who has been appointed by Mr Guterres to work with all stakeholders to refine the Report’s recommendations.

Mr Hochschild mentioned that ITU is and will be a key partner in refining these recommendations, given ITU’s longstanding expertise. He also stressed the need for a  multi-stakeholder approach.

ITU: key to a multi-stakeholder approach

I commend the Report’s acknowledgement of the unique role of the UN in convening stakeholders to create the frameworks necessary to ensure a safe and equitable digital future for all.

Indeed, as the UN specialized agency for ICTs, ITU has decades of experience in bringing the ever-widening range of stakeholders together to discuss these increasingly complex issues.

ITU’s expanding membership, which comprises 193 governments as well as some 900 private sector companies, universities, and other international and regional organizations – is a unique and distinctive feature of ITU, reflecting the rapidly changing nature of today’s digital economy.

Recognizing ITU’s value

ITU appreciates the Report’s recognition of the potential and implications of digital technologies toward the achievement of all 169 targets of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

In particular, I welcome the Report’s recognition of ITU’s valuable contribution to the digital transformation, with some cited examples that include:

  • ITU’s work in standards-setting
  • ITU’s establishment of multi-stakeholder initiatives on gender through EQUALS;
  • ITU’s work in cybersecurity such as the Oman-ITU Arab Regional Cybersecurity Centre.
  • ITU’s work in ranking, mapping and measuring key indices through its annual Measuring the Information Society report and Global Cybersecurity Index;
  • ITU’s role as a convening power, including its work on the World Summit on the Information Society Forum, the AI for Global Good Summit, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, ITU’s Global Symposium for Regulators,
Leaving no one behind: an inclusive digital economy and society

An inclusive digital economy is one in which no one is left behind. Digital technology can both provide opportunities and accentuate existing inequalities.

In this context, it is crucial to ensure affordable access to digital infrastructure all, and to ensure that everyone can reap the benefits of digital technology.

I am pleased to see that the Report highlights the need to provide affordable access to digital networks to every adult by 2030 – and the importance of trusted metrics to measure progress.

‘Bridging the digital divide’ is a core ITU mandate, and each of ITU’s sectors work to complement the Union’s achievement of this goal.

ITU works to collect and analyze data to measure the information society and promote informed-decision making.

ITU also works with its private and public and academic members to develop technical standards and harmonize radio-frequency spectrum and satellite coordination to help to ensure interoperability and reduced costs through economies of scale. This technical work is critical to protecting and encouraging key ICT investments that will be essential if we are to close the digital divide.

Progress, but more must be done

At the end of 2018, an important milestone was achieved. ITU statistics indicate more than half of the world’s population is using the Internet.

However, this is not enough: far too many people around the world are still waiting to reap the benefits of the digital economy.

The Report’s recognition of the valuable role of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development as a multi-stakeholder convening power is appreciated. The development of broadband infrastructure and services in all countries at all stages of development is key to ensuring that the benefits of technology can be accessible to all.

ITU looks forward to continuing cooperation with the Panel as their initiatives and recommendations progress.

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How we can foster digital cooperation in the ‘age of interdependence’

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