ITU PP14 Day 2: An overview

Plenipotentiary Conference 2018 announcedpp14-busan-twitter

We’ve hardly begun this conference, and we already have a venue for the next Plenipotentiary in 2018: the United Arab Emirates. The UAE hosted another big ITU event, the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), in 2012.

Women’s breakfast

There are now regular breakfasts at big ITU events aimed at helping women in the ITU community network. The first networking meal between women took place in 1992, with only 13 women present. This has grown over the years until there are now this many women and their supporters at the PP14 women’s breakfast:

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

A series of rather grim statistics about women’s participation in ICTs was presented, including:

  • Only 9% of app developers in Europe are women
  • Only 6% of the CEOs world’s top 100 technology companies are women
  • There are 200 million fewer women online in the world than men
  • The ratio of women studying ICTs has reduced significantly over the past couple of decades

In contrast, attendance by women at ITU Plenipotentiaries 2010 and 2014 looks positively rosy: in both plenipots, women have formed around 21% of the total delegate population.

The breakfast ended on a more upbeat note, with four female ICT ministers from Nigeria, Poland, Qatar and Sudan answering questions about the role and prospects for women in ICT.

Policy statements

There were 37 policy statements by Member States on Tuesday. While most of the statements on Day 1 were within the five-minute limit, statement lengths started to creep over that time limit on Day 2. The countries that spoke were:

  1. Malaysia
  2. China
  3. Kirgizstan
  4. Ukraine
  5. Sudan
  6. Mali
  7. Bhutan
  8. Gabon
  9. Uganda
  10. Kenya
  11. Argentina
  12. Ethiopia
  13. South Africa
  14. Singapore
  15. Bahrain
  16. Egypt
  17. Brazil
  18. Romania
  19. Hungary
  20. Mauritania
  21. Burkina Faso
  22. United Arab Emirates
  23. Algeria
  24. Tanzania
  25. Afghanistan
  26. Côte d’Ivoire
  27. Zambia
  28. India
  29. Myanmar
  30. Iran
  31. Peru
  32. Angola
  33. Dominican Republic
  34. UK
  35. Mexico
  36. Cyprus
  37. Lithuania

Most of the statements followed the standard format of thanks, facts and figures about ICT developments in their countries and a request to please vote for them in this week’s ITU elections. Many developing countries also referred to the assistance they had received from ITU and other ITU Member States to help develop their ICT infrastructure and services. It is worth remembering that the assistance the ITU has been able to provide to developing countries is one of the main reasons so many developing countries are such strong supporters of ITU. For these countries, ITU really has been an effective UN body. Of course, the other side of the coin is that the occupants of the some of the largest donor States do not see ITU doing anything to progress their needs or wants, and wonder if their money is being well spent (for example, there was a 2013 petition asking the US government to stop funding the ITU).

Highlights from the policy statements:

  • Afghanistan reported on the exponential growth of ICTs in its country since 2002, when its citizens needed to cross into adjoining countries to make a simple phone call. If you ever wondered whether the ITU is relevant in this day and age, cases like Afghanistan prove that it can and does play a fundamental role in supporting the development of ICTs in developing countries.
  • Brazil, which couldn’t get any mention of NETmundial included in this year’s CSTD draft ECOSOC resolution on WSIS follow-up, did make sure it highlighted NETmundial in its policy statement. It also highlighted President Roussef’s speech at the UN General Assembly in 2013, where she presented her principles for management of the Internet, which then became the underlying framework of the NETmundial outcome document.
  • India, which has a reputation for having a rather multiple personality approach to Internet governance (it depends which department is doing the talking), presented a pro-multilateral position in its policy statement. It highlighted its concerns that a country’s critical information infrastructure could be knocked out by cyber attacks and hoped that via ITU, Member States would work to harmonize their national policy and regulations to provide an effective response to cyber threats. India’s policy statement is directly linked to their very recently proposal for a new resolution, ITU’s role in realizing Secure Information Society. India previously submitted the proposal to the regional Asia Pacific group of ITU Member States, the Asia Pacific Telecommunity, but there was no consensus to support it as a common Asia Pacific proposal. Finally, clearly having missed the memo that ITU now embraces gender equality and mainstreaming, it referred to its fellow Member States as “brotherly”. Hm.
  • Iran had one of the most interesting of speeches to date. Not particularly known as a vocal supporter of the multistakeholder principles of WSIS, Iran referred a number of times to “stakeholders”. It never actually said the “M” word (“multistakeholder”) but the mere use of the term “stakeholder”, a concept that is integral to multistakeholderism, is significant.
  • Malaysia, with their recent experience of the loss of two Malaysian Airlines planes, stressed the importance of developing more advanced systems of communications for the airline industry. While this may seem like a very specific concern to be raising, it demonstrates the fact that Member State priorities at ITU are often direct responses to immediate and very personal experiences of the country.
  • Mexico announced that it is so committed to the work ITU is doing, it is raising its financial contribution to ITU from one contributory unit to three. That amounts to an extra CHF 600,000 per year.
  • UK, which supports a common European regional proposal to open the vast majority of ITU documents to the public,took the opportunity toemphasize its believe that ITU should make its processes and forums transparent and made publicly available wherever possible. This is probably linked, in particular, to previous debates in ITU Council about making the meetings and documents of the Member States-only Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) available to other Internet governance stakeholders. Those ITU Council meetings decided that it wasn’t up to the Council to decide on the issue, but it had to be a matter for all States at the Plenipotentiary to reach agreement on.
  • Ukraine, deeply unhappy about Russia’s annexation of Crimea, took the opportunity to describe Crimea as a “temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine” and protest the use of Ukrainian telecommunication networks and frequencies by Russian telecommunication operators and broadcasting organizations now operating in Crimea. So we can add the new set of tensions between Ukraine and Russia to the traditional tensions between USA and Cuba and Palestine and Israel to the mix of geopolitical hostilities that will crop up from time to time during the week. Of course, a specialized UN forum like the ITU is not going to be able to settle such problems, but given there is no one-stop-shop venue to settle these inter-country disputes, the aggrieved countries will use every UN forum to raise the profile of their dispute in the hope that specialized resolutions from individual UN forums may over time help their greater cause.

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