*This article has been adapted from remarks I made during the Digital Dialogues session organised by Broadband India Forum on 15th May 2020, to mark World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) 2020.
The COVID-19 crisis has illustrated the power and promise of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Never before has there been so much reliance, appreciation and emphasis placed on the important role and capacity of ICTs.
In the 51 years since this day was first celebrated there has never been more reason to do so.
Global networks have shown incredible resilience in the face of the huge increase in demand over the past few months. This would not have been possible had it not been for the dedication and commitment of all the network operators and platform providers who ensure continued access to this necessary lifeline. Congratulations to all of them!
During lockdown, ICTs have given billions of people around the world the ability to continue their work, studies, care of others and remain connected to loved ones. This begs the question, how could we possibly cope with today’s crisis without our technology, and what role will ICTs play in the recovery?
But not all have been able to benefit. Let’s remember that 3.6 billion people around the world are still not connected to the Internet. The increased awareness of the importance of being connecting brought about by the Covid-19 crisis will I believe make it sooner rather than later that everyone, everywhere is connected. It is now more urgent than ever before that we leverage ICTs to connect everyone everywhere and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the theme of this year’s WTISD, and leave no one behind.
As the UN specialized agency for ICTs, ITU has been working tirelessly with its membership and partners to respond to the pandemic and prepare for recovery, from delivering vital health care messaging to facilitating remote learning and boosting digital connectivity.
In ITU, we have maintained our business with virtual meetings – both internal meetings, and external meetings with our membership of 193 Member States and over 900 sector members – mostly private sector tech companies – including providing meetings with interpretation in six languages. These meetings have been particularly successful and have been very inclusive and efficient in reaching conclusions and decisions quickly.
We are building on the success of the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19), which luckily was held before this situation developed. WRC-19 has forged pathways for future wireless digital communications that are essential for realising every single one of the SDGs.
ITU’s Connect 2030 Agenda lays out the vision and targets for ITU to help achieve the SDGs and realize ITU’s central mission to connect the world.
We will only accomplish this by all the various stakeholders working together through global coordination, collaboration and cooperation.
We each need to bring our own specific competencies to the table, avoid duplication of effort and pool our resources for the common good.
India is a leading force in the global digital economy and a key member state of ITU. The country will host the upcoming ITU World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly and a new ITU Area Office in Delhi for South Asia.
India is uniquely placed to deliver on commitments to inclusive and sustainable development. Prime Minister Modi recently spoke about technology-driven systems that fulfil the dreams of the 21st century as one of the five pillars of India’s self-reliance strategy. I saw this in action at the India Mobile World Congress 2019, where new start-ups and innovators showed the huge potential that is in India to fulfil these dreams.
Despite the difficulties and challenges the world is now facing, COVID-19 has shown us that digital technologies can help us achieve a more sustainable planet with less pollution and usher in a new way of working – the “new normal” way of life. A way of life which is much more sustainable than the old. The planet, and all of us will hopefully benefit from a reduction in emissions and pollution and a better work/life balance as a result.
ITU is joining hands with India and all our other members to leverage digital technologies to fulfil the dreams of the 21st century, a digital future where no one is left behind and opportunities know no boundaries!