Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development

Address: Place des Nations, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland

Website: https://www.broadbandcommission.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Broadband Commission was originally established in 2010 by the ITU and UNESCO as the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in response to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call to boost the UN’s efforts to reach the millennium development goals.

In 2015, following the adoption of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the Broadband Commission was relaunched as the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, with the aim of showcasing and promoting information and communication technologies (ICTs) and broadband-based technologies for sustainable development by putting digital co-operation into action.

Led by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helù of Mexico, it is co-chaired by ITU’s Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. It comprises over 50 commissioners who represent a cross-cutting group of top CEOs and industry leaders, senior policymakers and government representatives, and experts from international agencies, academia, and organisations concerned with development.

Digital activities

The Broadband Commission focuses on closing the digital divide and promoting broadband development in developing countries and underserved communities, ensuring that all countries reap the benefits of digital technologies. The Broadband Commission’s efforts are detailed in the annual State of Broadband report, and take the form of thematic working groups and regular meetings and advocacy activities at the margins of flagship events such as WEF (Davos), GSMA MWC, IGF, HLPF, WSIS, and UNCTAD e-Commerce week.

In 2018, the Broadband Commission set seven objectives in its 2025 Targets initiative to help ‘connect the other half’ of the world’s population by expanding broadband infrastructure and access to the Internet.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications infrastructure 

The Broadband Commission promotes the adoption of practices and policies that enable the deployment of broadband networks at the national level, especially among developing countries. It engages in advocacy activities aimed to demonstrate that broadband networks are basic infrastructure in modern societies and could accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. The Broadband Commission publishes an annual State of the Broadband Report, providing a global overview of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by-country data measuring broadband access.

The Broadband Commission also launched a number of the working groups focused on ICT connectivity, including the World Bank led: Working group on Broadband for all: a ’Digital Infrastructure Moonshot’ for Africa and the Working Group on 21st Century Financing Models for Sustainable Broadband Development in 2019. These initiatives aim to provide governments and policymakers with a set of policy recommendations to foster innovative financing and investment strategies to achieve the Broadband Commission’s targets for broadband connectivity and adoption​.

The ongoing global pandemic has put at the forefront the vital role that broadband networks and services play in making economies and societies work, In response to the effects of the pandemic, the Broadband Commission adopted the Agenda for Action: For Faster and Better Recovery to accelerate the world’s response. This initiative includes immediate and long-term efforts that governments, global industry, civil society, and international organisations can undertake to support the development and strengthening of digital networks that remain so integral to our economy and society. The three pillars of resilient connectivity, affordable access, and safe use of online services provide a framework for all commissioners to mitigate the adverse effects of COVID-19 and lay the foundation for a better and faster recovery.

Access 

When advocating for the rollout of broadband infrastructure and bridging the digital divide, the Broadband Commission underlines the increasing importance of Internet access and adoption as an enabler of sustainable growth and development. It is paying particular attention to aspects related to the deployment of infrastructure in developing countries, education and capacity development, and safety online (particularly for children and youth), as well as the digital gender divide and the empowerment of women in the digital space.

Sustainable development

The Broadband Commission advocates for actions to be taken by all relevant stakeholders with the aim to close the digital divide, which is seen as an important step towards the achievement of the SDGs. Its annual State of the Broadband Report looks at the progress made in implementing broadband networks in various countries around the world, which it regards as an essential element in addressing the digital divide.

The Broadband Commission also addresses the impact of digital technologies on specific issues covered by the SDGs. One example is the Working Group on Digital Health, whose final report outlined recommendations for improving human health and well-being by implementing universal digital health coverage. In 2019, the Working Group on Data, Digital, and AI in Health was launched with the aim of raising awareness of the transformative power of data and artificial intelligence (AI) in health systems worldwide.

The Broadband Commission has also been active in environmental and climate change issues; in particular, its activities (ranging from publications and events to advocacy actions) cover the link between climate change and ICTs.

Interdisciplinary approaches

The work of the Broadband Commission contributes to the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which lays out how all stakeholders can play a role in advancing a safer and more equitable digital world. Through its range of working group initiatives and the advocacy of its commissioners, the Broadband Commission is an example of SDG 17: ‘Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.’

 

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Acronym: OHCHR

Address: Palais Wilson, Rue des Pâquis 52, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://ohchr.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other related UN human rights entities, namely the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Special Procedures, and the Treaty Bodies are considered together under this actor page*. 

The UN Human Rights Office is headed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and is the principal UN entity on human rights. Also known as UN Human Rights, it is part of the UN Secretariat. UN Human Rights has been mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote and protect all human rights. As such, it plays a crucial role in supporting the three fundamental pillars of the UN: peace and security, human rights, and development. UN Human Rights provides technical expertise and capacity development in regard to the implementation of human rights, and in this capacity assists governments in fulfilling their obligations.

UN Human Rights is associated with a number of other UN human rights entities. To illustrate, it serves as the secretariat for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Treaty Bodies. The UNHRC is a body of the UN that aims to promote the respect of human rights worldwide. It discusses thematic issues and in addition to its ordinary session, it has the ability to hold special sessions on serious human rights violations and emergencies. The ten Treaty Bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties.

The UNHRC established the Special Procedures, which are made up of UN Special Rapporteurs (i.e. independent experts or working groups) working on a variety of human rights thematic issues and country situations in order to assist the efforts of the UNHRC through regular reporting and advice. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), under the auspices of the UNHRC, is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN member states, providing the opportunity for each state to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries.  UN Human Rights also serves as the secretariat to the UPR process.

Certain non-governmental organisations and national human rights institutions have the ability to participate as observers in UNHRC sessions after receiving the necessary accreditation.

Digital Activities

Digital issues are increasingly gaining in prominence in the work of UN Human Rights, the UNHRC, the Special Procedures, the UPR, and the Treaty Bodies. The range of topics covered is constantly growing, encompassing for example: Privacy and data protection-related questions; freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly and association; racial discrimination; gender-related issues; the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights; the rights of older persons; and the safety of journalists online.

A landmark document which provides a blueprint for digital human rights is the UNHRC resolution (A/HRC/32/L.20) on the promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, which was first adopted in 2016. A second resolution with the same name (A/HRC/38/L.10) was adopted in July 2018. Both resolutions affirm that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online. Numerous other resolutions and reports from UN human rights entities and experts considered in this overview tackle an ever-growing range of other digital issues including the right to privacy in the digital age, freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, the rights of older persons, racial discrimination, the rights of women and girls, human rights in the context of violent extremism online, and economic, social, and cultural rights.

Digital policy issues

Privacy and data protection 

Challenges to the right to privacy in the digital age, such as surveillance, communications interception, and the increased use of data-intensive technologies, are among some of the issues covered by the activities of UN Human Rights. At the request of the UN General Assembly and the UNHRC, the High Commissioner prepared two reports on the right to privacy in the digital age, which were presented to the General Assembly in December 2014 and to the UNHRC in September 2018.

The UNHRC also tackles online privacy and data protection. Resolutions on the promotion and protection of human rights on the Internet have underlined the need to address security concerns on the Internet in accordance with international human rights obligations to ensure the protection of all human rights online, including the right to privacy. The UNHRC has also adopted specific resolutions on the right to privacy in the digital age including the latest version from 2019, which put a particular emphasis on the impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) on the enjoyment of the right to privacy. Resolutions on the safety of journalists have emphasised the importance of encryption and anonymity tools for journalists to freely exercise their work.

The UNHRC has also mandated the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy to address the issue of online privacy in its resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age from 2015 (A/HRC/RES/28/16). To illustrate, the Special Rapporteur has addressed the question of privacy from the stance of surveillance in the digital age (A/HRC/34/60), which becomes particularly challenging in the context of cross-border data flows.

More recently, specific attention has been given to privacy of health data that is being produced more and more in the day and age of digitalisation and that requires the ‘highest legal and ethical standards’ (A/HRC/40/63).

The 2020 report (A/HRC/43/52) published by the Special Rapporteur provides a set of recommendations on privacy in the online space calling for, among other things,  ‘comprehensive protection for secure digital communications, including by promoting strong encryption and anonymity-enhancing tools, products, and services, and resisting requests for “backdoors” to digital communications’ and recommends that ‘government digital identity programs are not used to monitor and enforce societal gender norms, or for purposes that are not lawful, necessary, and proportionate in a democratic society.’

Freedom of expression 

The High Commissioner and her office advocate for the promotion and protection of freedom of expression, including in the online space. Key topics in this advocacy are: The protection of the civic space and the safety of journalists online; various forms information control, including internet shutdowns and censorship; addressing incitement to violence, discrimination, or hostility; disinformation; and the role of social media platforms in the space of online expression.

In response to the rise of the ‘fake news’ phenomenon, the High Commissioner has joined other organisations in urging stakeholders to ensure that any measures aimed to tackle this phenomenon do not lead to illegitimate restrictions of freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression in the digital space also features highly on the agenda of the UNHRC. It has often underlined that states have a responsibility to ensure an adequate protection of freedom of expression online, including when they adopt and implement measures aimed to deal with issues such cybersecurity, incitement to violence, and the promotion and distribution of extremist content online. The UNHRC has also been firm in condemning measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online, and has called upon states to refrain from and cease such measures.

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has been mandated by the UNHRC to also explore issues related to freedom of expression online.

In 2018, the Special Rapporteur published a thematic report on ‘online content regulation’ that tackles governments’ regulation of user-generated online content and that recommends states to ensure an enabling environment for online freedom of expression. The same year, he also presented to the General Assembly a report addressing freedom of expression issues linked to the use of AI by companies and states. A year later, the Special Rapporteur presented a report to the UN General Assembly on online hate speech that discusses the regulation of hate speech in international human rights law and how it provides a basis for governmental actors considering regulatory options and for companies determining how to respect human rights online.

More recently, in 2020, the Special Rapporteur issued a report titled ‘Disease pandemics and the freedom of opinion and expression’ that specifically tackles issues such as access to the Internet, which is highlighted to be ‘a critical element of healthcare policy and practice, public information, and even the right to life.’ The report calls for greater international co-ordination on digital connectivity given the importance of digital access to healthcare information. Other reports addressed the vital importance of encryption and anonymity for the exercise of freedom of opinion and the threats to freedom of expression emanating from widespread digital surveillance.

Online hate speech and discrimination has also been addressed by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief. For instance, in a document published in 2019, the online manifestation of antisemitism (including antisemtic hate speech) was underscored and best practices from the Netherlands and Poland were shared. The report highlights that governments ‘have an affirmative responsibility to address online antisemitism, as the digital sphere is now the primary public forum and marketplace for ideas.’ In another document published that same year, the Special Rapporteur assesses the impact of online platforms on discrimination and on the perpetuation of hostile and violent acts in the name of religion, as well as how restrictive measures such as blocking and filtering of websites negatively impact the freedom of expression.

The issue of online blasphemy has also been addressed on a number of occasions, including in reports from 2018 and 2017.

Gender rights online 

UN Human Rights and the UNHRC have reiterated on several occasions the need for countries to bridge the gender digital divide and enhance the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs), including the Internet, to promote the empowerment of all women and girls. It has also condemned gender-based violence committed on the Internet. In a 2016 resolution on the promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, the UNHRC requested the High Commissioner on Human Rights to prepare a report on ways to bridge the gender digital divide from a human rights perspective, in consultation with states and other stakeholders.

Rights of persons with disabilities 

The promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the online space has been addressed on several occasions by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. A report from 2016 underscored that ICTs including the Internet can increase the participation of persons with disabilities in public decision-making processes and that states should work towards reducing the access gap between those who can use ICTs and those who cannot.

Nevertheless, a more recent report from 2019 stressed that the shift to e-governance and service delivery in a digital manner can hamper access for older persons with disabilities who may lack the necessary skills or equipment.

Freedom of peaceful assembly and of association 

The exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the digital environment in recent years have attracted increased attention. For example, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in 2019 published a report for the UNHRC focusing on the opportunities and challenges facing the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the digital age.

The High Commissioner presented to the 44th session of the UNHRC a report on new technologies such as ICTs and their impact on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of assemblies, including peaceful protests. The report highlighted many of the great opportunities for the exercise of human rights that digital technologies offer and analysed key issues linked to online content takedowns and called on states to stop the practice of network disruptions in the context of protests. It also developed guidance concerning the use of surveillance tools, in particular facial recognition technology.

The Human Rights Committee published in July 2020 its General Comment No. 37 on Article 21 of the ICCPR (right of peaceful assembly), which addresses manifold aspects arising in the digital context.

For her 2020 thematic report to the General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance examined how digital technologies deployed in the context of border enforcement and administration reproduce, reinforce, and compound racial discrimination.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is currently in the process of drafting its ‘General recommendation No. 36 on Preventing and Combating Racial Profiling: A call for contribution’, which among other things addresses forms of AI-based profiling.

Economic, social and cultural rights 

In March 2020, the UN Secretary-General presented to the UNHRC a report on the role of new technologies for the realization of economic, social, and cultural rights. He identifies the opportunities and challenges held by new technologies for the realisation of economic, social, and cultural rights and other related human rights, and for the human rights-based implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The report concludes with recommendations for related action by member states, private companies, and other stakeholders.

Child safety online 

The issue of child safety online has been in the attention of UN human rights entities for some time. A 2016 resolution on Rights of the child: information and communications technologies and child sexual exploitation adopted by the UNHRC calls on states to ensure ‘full, equal, inclusive, and safe access […] to information and communications technologies by all children and safeguard the protection of children online and offline’, as well as the legal protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation online. The Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, mandated by the UNHRC to analyse the root causes of sale and sexual exploitation and promote measures to prevent it, also looks at issues related to child abuse such as sexual exploitation of children online which has been addressed in a report (A/HRC/43/40) published in 2020, but also in earlier reports.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child is currently drafting a General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment.

Content policy 

Geneva-based human rights organisations and mechanisms also address issues linked to the use of digital technologies in the context of terrorism and violent extremism.

For example, UN Human Rights, at the request of the UNHRC, prepared a compilation report in 2016, which explores, among other issues, aspects related to the preventing and countering of violent extremism online, and underscores that responses to violent extremism that are robustly built on human rights are more effective and sustainable.

Additional efforts were made in 2019 when the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism published a report where she examined the multifaceted impacts of counter-terrorism measures on civic space and the rights of civil society actors and human rights defenders, including measures taken to address vaguely defined terrorist and violent extremist content. In July 2020, she published a report discussing the human rights implications of the use of biometric data to identify terrorists and recommended safeguards that should be taken.

Artificial intelligence 

In 2018, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression presented a report to the UN General Assembly on artificial intelligence technologies and implications for the information environment. Among other things, the document addresses the role of AI on the enjoyment of freedom of opinion and expression including ‘access to the rules of the game when it comes to AI-driven platforms and websites’ and therefore urges for a human rights-based approach to AI.

Data governance 

UN Human Rights maintians an online platform consisting of a number of databases on anti-discrimination and jurisprudence, as well as the Universal Human Rights Index (UHRI) which provide access to recommendations issued to countries by Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures, and the UPR of the UNHCR.

UN Human Rights has also published a report titled ‘A human rights-based approach to data – Leaving no one behind in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ that specifically focuses on issues of data collection and disaggregation in the context of sustainable development.

UN Human Rights has worked closely with partners across the UN system in contributing to the Secretary-General’s 2020 Data Strategy, and co-leads, with the Office of Legal Affairs and UN Global Pulse, work on the subsequent Data Protection and Privacy Program.

Capacity development 

UN Human Rights has also launched the UN Human Rights Business and Human Rights in Technology Project (B-Tech Project) that aims to provide guidance and resources to companies operating in the technology space with regard to the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In November 2019, a B-Tech scoping paper was published by the Office of the High Commissioner that outlines the scope and objectives of the project. In July 2020, UN Human Rights published a foundational paper on business model-related human rights risks.

Extreme poverty 

The Special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has in recent years increased his analysis of human rights issues arising in the context of increased digitisation and automation. His 2017 report to the General Assembly tackled the socio-economic challenges in an emerging world where automation and AI threaten traditional sources of income and analysed the promises and possible pitfalls of introducing a universal basic income. His General Assembly report in 2019 addressed worrying trends in connection with the digitisation of the welfare state.

Interdisciplinary approaches 
Collaboration within the UN system

UN Human Rights is a member of the Secretary-General’s Reference Group and contributed to the development of his Strategy on New Technologies in 2018.  The OHCHR was co-champion of the follow-up on two human rights-related recommendations of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. The outcomes of this process were the basis of the Secretary-General’s Roadmap on Digital Cooperation, presented in June 2020.  

UN Human Rights also participates in the UNESCO-led process to develop ethical standards for AI.

In addition, the OHCHR is a member of the Legal Identity Agenda Task Force, which promotes solutions for the implementation of SDG target 16.9 (i.e. by 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration). The OHCHR co-leads their work on biometrics.

Digital tools

The UNHRC has developed an e-learning tool to assist government officials from least developed countries and Small Islands Developing States as per the mandate of the Trust Fund to develop competencies on the UNHRC and its mechanisms.

Internet Governance Forum

Acronym: IGF

Address: Villa Bocage Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland

Website: https://intgovforum.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was established in Paragraph 72 of the Tunis Agenda of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) as a forum for multistakeholder policy dialogue. The mandate of the Forum is to discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance, in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability, and development of the Internet. Even though the IGF is not a decision-making body, its great potential lies in open discussions among all stakeholders on challenges and best practices related to the use and evolution of the Internet.

Starting 2006, the IGF holds annual meetings: Athens (2006), Rio de Janeiro (2007), Hyderabad (2008), Sharm El Sheikh (2009), Vilnius (2010), Nairobi (2011), Baku (2012), Bali (2013), Istanbul (2014), João Pessoa (2015), Guadalajara (2016). The programme of the annual meeting and the general direction of the IGF work are deliberated by the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) to the UN Secretary General.

The IGF Secretariat, currently based at the United Nations Office at Geneva, conducts the preparations for the annual IGF meetings, coordinates the IGF intersessional activities (between two annual meetings), and assists the MAG in its work.

United Nations Human Rights Council

Acronym: UNHRC

Address: Palais Wilson 52, rue des Pâquis, CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/HRCIndex.aspx

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Human Rights Council is a United Nations intergovernmental body whose mandate is to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, and to make recommendations on cases of human rights violations. The Council is made up of 47 member states, as elected by the UN General Assembly.

The Council works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), headed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is the principal human rights official of the United Nation.

Freedom of expression and privacy in the online space are two of the issues covered by the Council in its activities. These have been discussed at UNHRC sessions, and covered in resolutions adopted by the Council, as well as in reports elaborated by the special rapporteurs appointed by the Council. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has issued reports on issues such as: the use of encryption and anonymity to exercise the rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age; states’ surveillance of communications on the exercise of the human rights to privacy and to freedom of opinion and expression; the right to freedom of opinion and expression exercised through the Internet; etc. The Special Rapporteur on the righ to privacy has within its mandate the responsibility to make recommendations for the promotion and protection of the right to privacy, including in connection with challenges arising from new technologies.

International Telecommunication Union

Acronym: ITU

Address: Pl. des Nations 1211, 1202 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://itu.int

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a UN specialised agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs) with a membership of 193 member states and over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organisations. In general terms, the ITU focuses on three main areas of activity: Radiocommunications (harmonisation of the global radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits) through the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R); standardisation (development of international technical standards for the interconnection and interoperability of networks, devices, and services) through the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T); and development (working on, among a range of policy areas, improving secure access to ICTs in underserved communities worldwide) through the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D). The General Secretariat manages the intersectoral co-ordination functions, strategic planning, and corporate functions, as well as the administrative and financial aspects of the ITU’s activities. The ITU is also the organiser of the ITU Telecom events, leading tech events convening governments, major corporates, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to debate and share knowledge on key issues of the digital age, showcase innovation in exhibitions, and network and reward progress through an awards programme.

The ITU co-ordinates and organises the annual World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum (www.wsis.org.forum) that serves as a platform for stakeholders to co-ordinate, partner, and share the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines for achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Digital Activities

Some of the ITU’s key areas of action include: radiocommunication services (such as satellite services, fixed, mobile, and broadcasting services), developing telecommunications networks (including next generation networks and future networks), and ensuring access to bridge the digital divide and addressing challenges in ICT accessibility. The ITU’s work supports: emerging technologies in fields such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT); access and digital inclusion; the accessibility of ICTs to persons with disabilities; digital health; ICTs and climate change; cybersecurity, gender equality; and child online protection, among others. These and many more ICT topics are covered both within the framework of radiocommunication, standardisation, and development work, through various projects, initiatives, and studies carried out by the organisation.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications infrastructure 

Information and communication infrastructure development is one of the ITU’s priority areas. The organisation seeks to assist member states in the implementation and development of broadband networks, wired and wireless technologies, international mobile telecommunications (IMT), satellite communications,  the IoT, and smart grids, including next generation networks, as well as in the provision of telecommunication networks in rural areas.

Through the IITU-R, the ITU is involved in the global management of the radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, used for telecommunications services, in line with the Radio Regulations. The ITU’s International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) have as an overall aim the facilitation of global interconnection and interoperability of telecommunication facilities.

The international standards developed by the ITU-T enable the interconnection and interoperability of ICT networks, devices, and services worldwide.

The ITU-D establishes an enabling environment and provides evidence-based policy-making through ICT indicators, and implements a host of telecommunications/ICT projects.

In the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ITU-D launched the Global Network Resiliency Platform (REG4COVID) to address the strain experienced by telecommunication networks, which are vital to the health and safety of people. The platform ​pools experiences and innovative policy and regulatory measures.​

The impact statement for the Telecommunications Development Bureau’s (BDT) thematic priority on ’Network and Digital Infrastructure’ is: ‘Reliable Connectivity to Everyone’.

ITU-D Study Group 1 also focuses on various aspects related to telecommunication infrastructure, in particular: Question 1/1 on ‘Strategies and policies for the deployment of broadband in developing countries’; Question 2/1 on ‘Strategies, policies, regulations, and methods of migration and adoption of digital broadcasting and implementation of new services’; Question 4/1 on ‘Economic policies and methods of determining the costs of services related to national telecommunication/ICT networks’;  Question 5/1 on ‘Telecommunications/ICTs for rural and remote areas’; and Question 6/1 on ‘Consumer information, protection and rights: Laws, regulation, economic bases, consumer networks’.

5G

The ITU plays a key role in managing the radio spectrum and developing international standards for 5G networks, devices, and services, within the framework of the so-called IMT-2020 activities. The ITU-R study groups together with the mobile broadband industry and a wide range of stakeholders are finalising the development of 5G standards. The Detailed specifications of the radio interfaces of IMT-2020 are expected to be completed by 2020.

The activities in the field include the organisation of intergovernmental and multistakeholder dialogues, and the development and implementation of standards and regulations to ensure that 5G networks are secure, interoperable, and that they operate without interference.

The upcoming Sixth World Telecommunication/Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum (WTPF-21) will discuss how new and emerging digital technologies and trends are enablers of the global transition to the digital economy. 5G is one of the themes for consideration.

The ITU-R is co-ordinating international standardisation and identification of spectrum for 5G mobile development.

The ITU-T is playing a similar convening role for the technologies and architectures of non-radio elements of 5G systems. For example, ITU standards address 5G transport, with Passive Optical Network (PON), Carrier Ethernet, and Optical Transport Network (OTN), among the technologies standardised by ITU-T expected to support 5G systems. ITU standards for 5G networking address topics including network virtualisation, network orchestration and management, and fixed-mobile convergence. ITU standards also address machine learning for 5G and future networks, the environmental requirements of 5G, security and trust in 5G, and the assessment of 5G quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE).

Satellite

The ITU-R manages the detailed co-ordination and recording procedures for space systems and earth stations. Its main role is to process and publish data and to carry out the examination of frequency assignment notices submitted by administrations for inclusion in the formal co-ordination procedures or recording in the Master International Frequency Register.

The ITU-R also develops and manages space-related assignment or allotment plans and provides mechanisms for the development of new satellite services by locating suitable orbital slots.

Currently, the rapid pace of satellite innovation is driving an increase in the deployment of non-geostationary satellite systems (NGSO). With the availability of launch vehicles capable of supporting multiple satellite launches, mega-constellations consisting of hundreds to thousands of spacecraft are becoming a popular solution for global telecommunications.

To this end, during the last World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019 (WRC-19), the ITU established regulatory procedures for the deployment of NGSOs, including mega-constellations in low Earth orbit.

Regarding climate change, satellite data is today an indispensable input for weather prediction models and forecast systems used to produce safety warnings and other information in support of public and private decision-making.

The ITU develops international standards contributing to the environmental sustainability of the ICT sector, as well as other industry sectors applying ICTs as enabling technologies to increase efficiency and innovate their service offerings. The latest ITU standards in this domain address sustainable power feeding solutions for IMT-2020/5G networks, energy-efficient data centres capitalising on big data and AI, and smart energy management for telecom base stations.

Emergency Telecommunications

Emergency telecommunications is an integral part of the ITU’s mandate. In order to mitigate the impact of disasters, timely dissemination of authoritative information before, during, and after disasters is critical.

Emergency telecommunications play a critical role in disaster risk reduction and management. ICTs are essential for monitoring the underlying hazards and for delivering vital information to all stakeholders, including those most vulnerable, as well as in the immediate aftermath of disasters for ensuring timely flow of vital information that is needed to co-ordinate response efforts and save lives.

The ITU supports its member states in the four phases of disaster management:

1.  Design and implementation of national emergency telecommunications plans (NETPs), which include national policies and procedures as well as governance to support and enable the continued use of reliable and resilient ICT networks, services, and platforms for disaster management and risk reduction.

2. Development of tabletop simulation exercises to help build capacity at a national level to improve the speed, quality, and effectiveness of emergency preparedness and response, allowing stakeholders to test and refine emergency telecommunication plans, policies and procedures, and to verify whether ICT networks, redundant telecommunications capacities, personnel, as well as other telecommunication systems are in place and ready to be used for disaster response.

3. Design and implementation of multi-hazard early warning systems (MHEWS), including the common alerting protocol (CAP), which monitor the underlying hazards and exchange emergency alerts and public warnings over all kinds of ICT networks, allowing a consistent warning message to be disseminated simultaneously over many different warning systems, providing communities at risk with crucial information to take urgent actions to save their lives and livelihoods.

4. Development of guidelines and other reports on the use of ICTs for disaster management to help countries be better prepared for disaster response at a time when the frequency, intensity, and human and economic impact of disasters is on the rise worldwide.

The ITU’s activities in the field of radiocommunications make an invaluable contribution to disaster management. They facilitate the prediction, detection, and alerting through the co-ordinated and effective use of the radio-frequency spectrum and the establishment of radio standards and guidelines concerning the usage of radiocommunication systems in disaster mitigation and relief operations.

ITU standards offer common formats for the exchange of all-hazard information over public networks. They ensure that networks prioritise emergency communications. And they have a long history of protecting ICT infrastructure from lightning and other environmental factors. In response to the increasing severity of extreme weather events, recent years have seen ITU standardisation experts turning their attention to ‘disaster relief, network resilience and recovery’. This work goes well beyond traditional protections against environmental factors, focusing technical mechanisms to prepare for disasters and respond effectively when disaster strikes.

ITU standards now offer guidance on network architectures able to contend with sudden losses of substantial volumes of network resources. They describe the network functionality required to make optimal use of the network resources still operational after a disaster. They offer techniques for the rapid repair of damaged ICT infrastructure, such as means to connect the surviving fibres of severed fibre-optic cables. And they provide for ‘movable and deployable ICT resource units’ – emergency containers, vehicles, or hand-held kits housing network resources and a power source – to provide temporary replacements for destroyed ICT infrastructure.

The ITU is also supporting an ambitious project to equip submarine communications cables with climate and hazard-monitoring sensors to create a global real-time ocean observation network. This network would be capable of providing earthquake and tsunami warnings, as well as data on ocean climate change and circulation. This project to equip cable repeaters with climate and hazard-monitoring sensors – creating ‘Science Monitoring And Reliable Telecommunications (SMART) cables’ – is led by the ITU/WMO/UNESCO-IOC Joint Task Force on SMART Cable Systems, a multidisciplinary body established in 2012.

In the ITU-D, a lot of effort is directed at mainstreaming disaster management in telecommunications/information and communication technology projects and activities as part of disaster preparedness. This includes infrastructure development, and the establishment of enabling policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks. The ITU also deploys temporary telecommunications/ICT solutions to assist countries affected by disasters. After providing assistance for disaster relief and response, ITU undertakes assessment missions to affected countries aimed at determining the magnitude of damages to the network through the use of geographical information systems. On the basis of its findings, the ITU and the host country embark on the resuscitation of the infrastructure while ensuring that disaster resilient features are integrated to reduce network vulnerability in the event of disasters striking in the future.

Work includes:

The ITU is also part of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), a global network of organisations that work together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies.

Artificial intelligence 

The ITU works on the development and use of AI to ensure a sustainable future for everyone. To that end, it convenes intergovernmental and multistakeholder dialogues, develops international standards and frameworks, and helps in capacity building for the use of AI.

AI and machine learning are gaining a larger share of the ITU standardisation work programme in fields such as network orchestration and management, multimedia coding, service quality assessment, operational aspects of service provision and telecom management, cable networks, digital health, environmental efficiency, and autonomous driving.

The ITU organises the annual AI for Good Global Summit, which aims to connect innovators in the field of AI with public and private sector decision-makers to develop AI solutions that could help in achieving the SDGs.

The ITU has launched a global AI repository to identify AI related projects, research initiatives, think-tanks, and organisations that can accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs.

Open ITU platforms advancing various aspects of AI and machine learning include:

The ITU, through its Development Sector, also holds an annual meeting for all telecommunication regulators on the occasion of the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR), which discusses and establishes a regulatory framework for all technologies including AI, and addresses this issue at its two Study Groups. Several areas under ITU-D Study Groups 1 and 2 explore applications of AI in various domains to support sustainable development.

Critical internet resources 

Over the years, the ITU has adopted several resolutions that deal with Internet technical resources, such as: Internet Protocol-based networks (Resolution 101 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)), IPv4 to IPv6 transition (Resolution 180 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)), and internationalised domain names (Resolution 133 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)). The ITU has also adopted a resolution on its role in regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses (Resolution 102 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)). In addition, the ITU Council has set up a Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues, tasked with identifying, studying, and developing matters related to international Internet-related public policy issues. This Working Group also holds regular online open public consultations on specific topics to give all stakeholders from all nations an opportunity to express their views with regard to the topic(s) under discussion.

The ITU is also the facilitator of WSIS Action Line С2 – Information and communication infrastructure.

Digital standards 

International standards provide the technical foundations of the global ICT ecosystem.

Presently, 95% of international traffic runs over optical infrastructure built in conformance with ITU standards. Video now accounts for over 80% of all Internet traffic; this traffic relies on the ITU’s Primetime Emmy winning video-compression standards.

ICTs are enabling innovation in every industry and public-sector body. The digital transformation underway across our economies receives key support from ITU standards for smart cities, energy, transport, healthcare, financial services, agriculture, and AI and machine learning.

ICT networks, devices, and services interconnect and interoperate thanks to the efforts of thousands of experts who come together on the neutral ITU platform to develop international standards known as ITU-T Recommendations.

Standards create efficiencies enjoyed by all market players, efficiencies, and economies of scale that ultimately result in lower costs to producers and lower prices to consumers. Companies developing standards-based products and services gain access to global markets. And by supporting backward compatibility, ITU standards enable next-generation technologies to interwork with previous technology generations; this protects past investments while creating the confidence to continue investing in our digital future.

The ITU standardisation process is contribution-led and consensus-based: Standardisation work is driven by contributions from ITU members and consequent decisions are made by consensus. The ITU standardisation process aims to ensure that all voices are heard and that resulting standards have the consensus-derived support of the diverse and globally representative ITU membership.

ITU members develop standards year-round in ITU-T Study Groups. Over 4000 ITU-T Recommendations are currently in force, and over 300 new or revised ITU-T Recommendations are approved each year.

For more information on the responsibilities of ITU study groups, covering the ITU-T study groups as well as those of ITU’s radiocommunication and development sectors (ITU-R and ITU-D), see the ITU backgrounder on study groups.

The ITU World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) is the governing body of ITU’s standardisation arm (ITU-T). It is held every four years to review the overall direction and structure of the ITU-T. This conference also approves the mandates of the ITU-T Study Groups (WTSA Resolution 2) and appoints the leadership teams of these groups.

Internet of things 

The ITU develops international standards supporting the co-ordinated development and application of IoT technologies, including standards leveraging IoT technologies to address urban-development challenges.

The ITU also facilitates international discussions on the public policy dimensions of smart cities, principally within the United for Smart Sustainable Cities Initiative, an initiative supported by 17 UN bodies with the aim of achieving SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities).

ITU standards have provided a basis for the development of ‘Key Performance Indicators for Smart Sustainable Cities’. More than 100 cities worldwide have adopted the indicators as part of a collaboration driven by the ITU within the framework of the U4SSC initiative.

U4SSC prizes learning from experience and sharing lessons learnt. The new U4SSC implementation programme supports the new partnerships driving smart city projects. As the implementation arm of U4SSC, the programme aims to enact the lessons learned in U4SSC’s work.

The range of application of the IoT is very broad – extending from smart clothing to smart cities and global monitoring systems. To meet these varied requirements, a variety of technologies, both wired and wireless, are required to provide access to the network.

Alongside ITU-T studies on the IoT and smart cities, the ITU-R conducts studies on the technical and operational aspects of radiocommunication networks and systems for the IoT. The spectrum requirements and standards for IoT wireless access technologies are being addressed in the ITU-R, as follows:

  • harmonisation of frequency ranges, technical and operating parameters
  • used for the operation of short-range devices
  • standards for wide area sensor and actuator network systems
  • spectrum to support the implementation of narrowband and broadband machine-type communication infrastructures
  • support for massive machine-type communications within the framework of the standards and spectrum for IMT-Advanced (4G) and IMT-2020 (5G)
  • use of fixed-satellite and mobile-satellite communications for the IoT

ITU-D Study Group 2 Question 1/2 (‘Creating smart cities and society: Employing information and communication technologies for sustainable social and economic development’) includes case studies on the application of the IoT, and identifying the trends and best practices implemented by member states as well as the challenges faced, in order to support sustainable development and foster smart societies in developing countries.

Blockchain 

New ITU standards for blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) address the requirements of blockchain in next-generation network evolution and the security requirements of blockchain, both in terms of blockchain’s security capabilities and security threats to blockchain.

The ITU reports provide potential blockchain adopters with a clear view of the technology and how it could best be applied. Developed by the ITU Focus Group on Application of Distributed Ledger Technolog