Address: Place des Nations, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland
Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations
The Broadband Commission is a public-private partnership fostering digital cooperation and developing actionable recommendations for achieving universal connectivity.
Established in 2010 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and Mr Carlos Slim Helú of Mexico, its mission is to boost the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda and expand broadband access to every country. Today, the Commission is composed of more than 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.
The Commission acts as a UN advocacy engine for the implementation of the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, leveraging the strength of its membership and collective expertise to advocate for meaningful, safe, secure, and sustainable broadband communications services that reflect human and children’s rights.
The 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. Its efforts are detailed in its flagship annual State of Broadband Report and take the form of thematic Working Groups, regular meetings, and advocacy activities at the margins of other flagship events such as the World Economic Forum (Davos), GSMA’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), and the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
In 2018, the Commission set seven objectives in its 2025 Advocacy Targets to guide efforts to ‘connect the other half’ of the world’s population by expanding broadband infrastructure and access to the internet. They reflect ambitious and aspirational goals and function as a policy and programmatic guide for national and international action in broadband development.
The Commission hosts between two and four Working Groups annually to dive deeper into prominent issues affecting broadband access, affordability, and use. Working Groups are proposed, chaired, funded, and led by Commissioners, with the support of external experts. The culmination of the discussion and research of these groups is a consensus-based report, which provides actionable recommendations for achieving the Commission’s targets and thereby elements of the UN 2030 Agenda.
Digital policy issues
The Commission promotes the adoption of best practices and policies that enable the deployment of broadband networks at the national level, especially among developing countries. It engages in advocacy activities aimed at demonstrating that broadband networks are fundamental to modern societies and the achievement of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs). It publishes an annual State of Broadband Report, providing a global overview of the current state of broadband network access and affordability, an update of the Commission’s seven Advocacy Targets, and insights from Commissioners on impactful actions for accelerating progress.
The Commission has launched a number of Working Groups focused on information and communications technology (ICT) connectivity, including the World Bank led 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 holistic policy recommendations to foster innovative financing and investment strategies to achieve the Commission’s targets for broadband connectivity and adoption. The Working Group on School Connectivity identified a set of core principles to help governments and other interested stakeholders to develop more holistic school connectivity plans.
The ongoing global pandemic has shined a light on the critical role broadband networks and services play in making economies and societies work and thrive. In response to the effects of the pandemic, the 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.
When advocating for the rollout of broadband infrastructure and bridging the digital divide, the Commission underlines the increasing importance of internet access and adoption as an enabler of inclusive sustainable growth and development. It pays particular attention to aspects related to the deployment of infrastructure in developing countries, hybrid education and capacity development, and online safety (particularly for children and youth), in addition to the digital gender divide and the empowerment of women in the digital space.
Recent broadband reports covering these topics include the Commission’s Working Group on Digital Learning, Vulnerable Countries, and the Gender Digital Divide. These Working Groups aim to advance progress on the Commission’s 2025 Advocacy Targets on Broadband Policy, Connectivity, Digital Skills Development, and Gender Equality.
The Commission advocates for actions to be taken by all relevant stakeholders with the aim of closing the digital divide, a crucial step towards the achievement of the SDGs. The Commission’s annual State of 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 Commission also addresses the impact of digital technologies on specific issues covered by the SDGs. One example is the recent Working Group on VirtualHealth & Care, whose final report outlines practical recommendations for the future of digital health services presented in a framework of six key policy pillars. In 2021, the Working Group on Smartphone Access was launched to examine the smartphone access gap and provide strategies for achieving universal smartphone ownership so that all communities may benefit from access to digital services.
Also active in environmental and climate change issues, the Commission’s activities (ranging from publications and events to advocacy actions) cover the link between climate change and ICTs.
Interdisciplinary approaches: Digital cooperate
The work of the 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 various Working Group initiatives and the advocacy of its Commissioners, the Broadband Commission is a prime example of SDG 17 (Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development) in action. The Commission makes policy recommendations and advocates implicitly for global digital cooperation, providing considerations for all sectors to work in tandem to reach the goal of universal connectivity.
Digital tools and initiatives
The Broadband Commission’s website, social media, and various online channels feature landmark reports, which are available for free:
- Broadband Commission 2020 Universal Connectivity
- The Future of Virtual Health and Care
- 21st Century Financing Models for Bridging Connectivity Gaps
- Connecting Learning Spaces: Possibilities for Hybrid Learning
- Importance of ICT and Global Cooperation for Future Epidemic Management
- Reimagining Global Health through Artificial Intelligence: The Roadmap to AI Maturity
- Balancing Act: Countering Digital Disinformation While Respecting Freedom of Expression
- The Digital Transformation of Education: Connecting Schools, Empowering Learners
- Connecting Africa Through Broadband: A Strategy for Doubling Connectivity by 2021 and Reaching Universal Access by 2030
- Epidemic Preparedness: Preventing the Spread of Epidemics Using ICTs
- Digital Health: A Call for Government Leadership and Cooperation between ICT and Health
- The Promise of Digital Health: Addressing Non-communicable Diseases to Accelerate Universal Health Coverage in LMICs
- Child Online Safety: Minimising the Risk of Violence, Abuse and Exploitation Online
- Digital Gender Divide: Bridging the Gender Gap in Internet and Broadband Access and Use
- Education: Digital Skills for Life and Work
- Digital Entrepreneurship
- Broadband for the Most Vulnerable Countries
- Digitalization Scorecard: Which Policies and Regulations can Help Advance Digitalization
- Linking ICT with Climate Action for a Low Carbon Economy
- Creating a Favourable Environment for Attracting
- Finance and Investment in Broadband Infrastructure
The Broadband Commission has also been instrumental in launching the following global initiatives:
- EQUALS: The ITU/ITC/GSMA/UN Women Global
- Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age
- GIGA: The ITU/UNICEF Global Initiative to Connect
- Every School to the Internet by 2030The Child Online Safety Universal Declaration
Social media channels
Flickr @Broadband Commission
YouTube @Broadband Commission
Address: Chemin de Blandonnet 8, 1214 Vernier, Geneva, Switzerland
Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations
ISO is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) composed of 165 national standard-setting bodies that are either part of governmental institutions or mandated by their respective governments. Each national standard-setting body therefore represents a member state. After receiving a request from a consumer group or an industry association, ISO convenes an expert group tasked with creating a particular standard through a consensus process. ISO develops international standards across a wide range of industries, including technology, food, and healthcare, to ensure that products and services are safe, reliable, of good quality, and ultimately, facilitate international trade. As such, it acts between the public and the private sector. To date, ISO has published more than 22,000 standards.
A large number of the international standards and related documents developed by ISO are related to information and communications technologies (ICTs), such as the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) created in 1983; it established a universal reference model for communication protocols. The organisation is also active in the field of emerging technologies including blockchain, the internet of things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI).
The standards are developed by various technical committees dedicated to specific areas including information security, cybersecurity, privacy protection, AI, and intelligent transport systems. ISO contributes to all of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Here you can see the number of ISO standards that apply to each SDG.
Digital policy issues
The joint technical committee of ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) for AI is known as ISO/ IEC JTC1/SC 42 and is responsible for the development of standards in this area. To date, it has published one standard specifically pertaining to AI with 18 others in development.
ISO/IEC TR 24028 provides an overview of trustworthiness in AI systems, detailing the associated threats and risks and addresses approaches on availability, resiliency, reliability, accuracy, safety, security, and privacy. The standards under development include those that cover concepts and terminology for AI (ISO/IEC 22989), bias in AI systems and AI-aided decision-making (ISO/IEC TR 24027), AI risk management (ISO/IEC 23894), a framework for AI systems using machine learning (ML) (ISO/IEC 23053), and the assessment of ML classification performance (ISO/IEC TS 4213).
Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details) can be found on the committee page.
ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) also have a joint committee for standards related to cloud computing, which currently has 19 published standards and a further 7 in development.
Of those published, two standards of note include ISO/ IEC 19086-1, which provides an overview, foundational concepts, and definitions for a cloud computing service level agreement framework, and ISO/IEC 17789, which specifies the cloud computing reference architecture.
Standards under development include those on health informatics (ISO/TR 21332.2); the audit of cloud services (ISO/IEC 22123-2.2); and data flow, categories, and use (ISO/IEC 19 944 -1). Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details) can be found on the committee page.
Internet of things
Recognising the ongoing developments in the field of IoT, ISO has a number of dedicated standards both published and in development, including those for intelligent transport systems (ISO 19079), future networks for IoT (ISO/IEC TR 29181-9), unique identification for IoT (ISO/ IEC 29161), Internet of Media Things (ISO/IEC 23093-3), trust-worthiness of IoT (IS O/IEC 30149), and industrial IoT systems (ISO/IEC 30162). IoT security is addressed in standards such as ISO/IEC 27001 and ISO/IEC 27002, which provide a common language for governance, risk, and compliance issues related to information security.
In addition, there are seven standards under development, some of which provide a methodology for the trustworthiness of an IoT system or service (ISO/IEC 30147), a trustworthiness framework (ISO/IEC 30149), the requirements of an IoT data exchange platform for various IoT services (ISO/IEC 30161), and a real-time IoT framework (ISO/IEC 30165). Up-to-date information on the ISO and IEC joint technical committee for IoT (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details) can be found on the committee page.
ISO’s standardisation work in the field of telecommunications infrastructure covers areas such as planning and installation of networks (e.g. ISO/IEC 14763-2 and ISO/IEC TR 14763-2-1), corporate telecommunication networks (e.g. ISO/IEC 17343), local and metropolitan area networks (e.g. ISO/IEC/IEEE 8802-A), private integrated telecommunications networks (e.g. ISO/ IEC TR 14475), and wireless networks. Next-generation networks – packet-based public networks able to provide telecommunications services and make use of multiple quality of service enabled transport technology – are equally covered (e.g. ISO/IEC TR 26905).
ISO also has standards for the so-called future networks, which are intended to provide futuristic capabilities and services beyond the limitations of current networks, including the internet.
Up-to-date information on the joint ISO and IEC technical committee that develops these standards (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details) can be found on the committee page.
ISO has published three standards on blockchain and distributed ledger technologies: ISO/TR 23455 gives an overview of smart contracts in blockchain and distributed ledger technologies, ISO/TR 23244 tackles privacy and personally identifiable information protection, and ISO 22739 covers fundamental blockchain terminology respectively.
ISO also has a further ten standards on blockchain in development. These include those related to security risks, threats, and vulnerabilities (ISO/TR 23245.2); security management of digital asset custodians (ISO/TR 23576); taxonomy and ontology (ISO/TS 23258); legally- binding smart contracts (ISO/TS 23259); and guidelines for governance (ISO/TS 23635).
Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details) can be found on the committee page.
ISO develops standards in the area of emerging technologies. Perhaps the largest number of standards in this area are those related to robotics. ISO has more than 40 different standards either published or in development that cover issues such as collaborative robots (e.g. ISO/TS 15066), safety requirements for industrial robots (e.g. ISO 10218-2), and personal care robots (e.g. ISO 13482).
Autonomous or so-called intelligent transport systems (ITS) standards are developed by ISO’s ITS Technical Committee and include those for forward vehicle collision warning systems (ISO 15623) and secure connections between trusted devices (ISO/TS 21185).
Standards are also being developed to address the use of virtual reality in learning, education, and training (e.g. ISO/ IEC 23843) and the display device interface for augmented reality (ISO/IEC 23763).
As more and more information (including sensitive personal data) is stored, transmitted, and processed online, the security, integrity, and confidentiality of such information become increasingly important. To this end, ISO has a number of standards for the encryption of data. For example, ISO/IEC 18033-1, currently under development, addresses the nature of encryption and describes certain general aspects of its use and properties. Other standards include ISO/IEC 19772, which covers authenticated encryption; ISO/IEC 18033-3, which specifies encryption systems (ciphers) for the purpose of data confidentiality; and ISO 19092, which allows for the encryption of biometric data used for authentication of individuals in financial services for confidentiality or other reasons.
ISO also has standards that focus on identity-based ciphers, symmetric and asymmetric encryption, public key infrastructure, and many more related areas.
Big data is another area of ISO standardisation, and around 80% of related standards are developed by the ISO/IEC AI committee. The terminology for big-data-related standards is outlined in ISO/IEC 20546, while ISO/ IEC 20547-3 covers big data reference architecture. ISO/IEC TR 20547-2 provides examples of big data use cases with application domains and technical considerations. ISO/IEC TR 20547-5 details a roadmap of existing and future standards in this area. A further eight standards are in development and include those for big data security and privacy (ISO/IEC 27045), terminology used in big data within the scope of predictive analytics (ISO 3534-5), and data science life cycle (ISO/TR 23347).
Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details) can be found on the committee page.
Digital signatures that validate digital identities help to ensure the integrity of data and the authenticity of particulars in online transactions. This, therefore, contributes to the security of online applications and services. Standards to support this technology cover elements such as anonymous digital signatures (e.g. ISO/IEC 20008-1 and ISO/IEC 20008-2); digital signatures for healthcare documents (e.g. ISO 17090-4 and ISO 17090-5); and blind digital signatures, which is where the content of the message to be signed is disguised, used in contexts where, for example, anonymity is required. Examples of such standards are ISO 18370-1 and ISO/IEC 18370-2.
Privacy and data protection
Privacy and data protection in the context of ICTs is another area covered by ISO’s standardisation activities. One example is ISO/IEC 29101, which describes a privacy architecture framework. Others include those for privacy-enhancing protocols and services for identification cards (ISO/IEC 19286); privacy protection requirements pertaining to learning, education, and training systems employing information technologies (ISO/IEC 29187-1); privacy aspects in the context of intelligent transport systems (ISO/TR 12859); and security and privacy requirements for health informatics (ISO/TS 14441).
ISO has developed an online browsing platform that provides up-to-date information on ISO standards, graphical symbols, publications, and terms and definitions.
Future of meetings
ISO’s meetings take place face-to-face, hybrid, or virtually. This is reflected in the ISO meeting calendar. ISO’s governance groups are also meeting face-to-face, hybrid, or virtually.
Address: L'Ancienne-Route 17A, Postal Box 45 , 1218 Le Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland
Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations
EBU is the world’s leading alliance of public service media. It has 112 member organisations in 56 countries and an additional 31 associates in Asia, Africa, Australasia, and the Americas. EBU members operate nearly 2,000 television, radio, and online channels and services, and offer a wealth of content across other platforms.
Together they reach an audience of more than one billion people around the world, broadcasting in more than 160 languages. The EBU operates Eurovision and Euroradio services.
Digital policy issues
EBU members use various types of network infrastructure for the production and distribution of PSM content and services to the entire population. In addition to traditional broadcasting networks – terrestrial, cable, or satellite – media service providers use fixed and wireless IP networks. The EBU’s activities aim to ensure that these networks are capable of meeting the requirements of PSM organisations and their audiences in a technically and economically viable way. This includes technical developments and standardisation in collaboration with industry partners as well as engagement with regulators and policymakers to ensure a suitable regulatory framework for PSM content and services.
The current focus is on broadband distribution infrastructure; distribution over internet platforms; wireless mobile technologies such as 5G; and terrestrial broadcast networks, including access to spectrum.
The governance of the EBU’s technical work is described here: https://tech.ebu.ch/about. The current Technical Committee Workplan is available here https://tech.ebu.ch/publications/tc_workplan_up_to_2023.
Further information about the EBU’s technical work, including the scope of different working groups, can be found at tech.ebu.ch.
Following the start of the war in Ukraine and the 2021 flooding in Europe, the EBU issued a recommendation to recall the crucial importance of PSM’s delivery to citizens – for this, no single resilient network will suffice.
Since its inception in 1950, the EBU has been mandated by its members to contribute to standardisation work in all technological fields related to media. This work ranges from TV and radio production equipment to the new broadcasting standards for transmission. This mandate has been naturally extended over the years to the field of mobile technologies, as well as online production and distribution.
The EBU hosts the digital video broadcasting (DVB) project, which has developed digital TV standards such as DVB-T/T2 and DVB-S/S2 which are the backbone of digital TV broadcasting around the world. DVB is currently working on an IP-based distribution system and on DVB-I, a new open standard for content distribution over the internet. This work is closely aligned with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).
The EBU is an active member of a number of other standards and industry organisations that are developing specifications relevant to media content production and distribution, including major standards developing organisations (SDOs) (e.g. the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), 3GPP, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) but also those with a more focused scope (e.g. Hybrid broadcast broadband TV (HbbTV), DASH Industry Forum (DASH- IF), the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), RadioDNS (1), Word Digital Audio Broadcasting (WorldDAB), Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA), and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE)). In all these organisations, the EBU’s main objective is to ensure that specifications are capable of meeting the requirements of EBU members and their audiences.
In 2019, the EBU launched a 5G Media Action Group (5G-MAG), an independent non-profit cross-industry association that provides a framework for collaboration between media and information and communications technology (ICT) stakeholders on a market-driven implementation of 5G technologies in content creation, production, distribution, and consumption.
AI and data are central themes for PSM today, especially when it comes to strengthening and personalising relationships with its citizens. The EBU’s AI and Data Group defines the AI and Data Initiative strategy and priorities in order to support EBU members’ data usage and AI- and data-driven strategies. It brings together EBU member delegates and EBU permanent services delegates, who are directly involved in carrying out strategic, managerial, analytical, technological, legal, content-related, or other types of activities related to data usage in their respective organisations.
A prominent example of the EBU’s use of AI is its PEACH (Personalization for EACH) initiative, which has brought together a number of public broadcasters to develop AI-powered tools to deliver the right content to the right audience in accordance with current data protection regulations.
The EBU’s work in the field of net neutrality focuses on assisting its members in coordinating their positions on broadband network neutrality. To this end, it provides expertise and facilitates initiatives and the drafting of documents concerning net neutrality at the EU level. The EBU also encourages its members to exchange experiences from the national level. Net neutrality is addressed as part of the EBU’s Legal and Policy Distribution Group. Net neutrality is seen as a key principle for public service broadcasters to support and advocate for, as it ensures their services are equally accessible by all internet users.
Cybercrime and network security
The EBU has developed a Strategic Programme on Media Cyber Security, aimed mainly at raising awareness among its members of the increasing cybersecurity risks and threats to broadcasting. This initiative also provides a platform for its members to exchange information on security incidents (e.g. phishing campaigns, targeted malware attacks), as well as on lessons learned, projects, and internal procedures. A dedicated working group is focused on defining information security best practices for broadcast companies – it has recently published a recommendation providing guidance on cybersecurity safeguards that media organisations and media vendors should apply when planning, designing, or sourcing their products and services. The EBU organises an annual Media Cybersecurity Forum, which brings together manufacturers, service providers, and media companies to discuss security issues in the media domain.
Convergence and OTT
In an environment increasingly characterised by digital convergence, the EBU is working on identifying viable investment solutions for over-the-top (OTT) services. The organisation has a Digital Media Steering Committee, focused on ‘defining the role of public service media in the digital era, with a special focus on how to interact with big digital companies’. It also develops a bi-annual roadmap for technology and innovation activities and has a dedicated Project Group on OTT services.
In addition, there is an intersectoral group composed of EBU members and staff that exchange best practices for relations between internet platforms and broadcasters. During the COVID-19 crisis, a coordinated effort by the technical distribution experts of the EBU and its members monitored the state of the global broadband network to help avoid surcharges due to the increased consumption of on-demand programmes.
This work goes hand in hand with that developed by the Legal and Policy department – among others with the Content, Platform, Distribution, and Intellectual Property Expert Groups, all key in the establishment of EU rules enabling the proper availability of PSM services to people across the EU and beyond.
Most of the EBU’s activities are aimed at increasing the capacity of its members to address challenges and embrace opportunities brought about by the digital age. To that end, through its Digital Transformation Initiative, the EBU has developed a number of member support services, such as its expert community network that gathers over 200 experts from across its membership, and a digital knowledge hub with a repository of analyses and best practices. The EBU also offers a wide range of workshops and other sessions aimed at creating awareness about the digital transformation of the public service media, developing peer-to-peer assessment of members’ digital maturity, and initiating tailored interventions based on members’ needs.
1-RadioDNS is an organisation that promotes the use of open technology standards to enable hybrid radio. Hybrid radio combines broadcast radio and internet technologies to create a harmonised distribution technology. It relies upon the Domain Name System (DNS).
Address: Centre William Rappard, Rue de Lausanne 154, 1211 Geneva 21, Switzerland
Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations
WTO is an intergovernmental organisation that deals with the rules of trade among its members. Its main functions include administering WTO trade agreements, providing a forum for trade negotiations, settling trade disputes, monitoring national trade policies, providing technical assistance and training for developing countries, and ensuring cooperation with other international organisations.
WTO members have negotiated and agreed upon rules regulating international trade, fostering transparency and predictability in the international trading system. The main agreements are the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).
Several internet governance and digital trade policy- related issues are discussed in WTO. E-commerce discussions are ongoing under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce and among a group of 87 WTO members currently negotiating e-commerce rules under the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-commerce. Discussions focus on several digital issues, including data flows and data localisation, source code, cybersecurity, privacy, consumer protection, capacity building, and customs duties on electronic transmissions.
As part of its outreach activities, WTO organises numerous events such as the Aid for Trade Global Review and an annual Public Forum, which brings together governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics, businesses, and other stakeholders for discussions on a broad range of issues, including many relating to the digital economy.
Digital policy issues
In 1997, WTO members successfully concluded negotiations on market access for basic telecommunications services, which resulted in new specific commitments in the sector for a significant part of WTO membership. These negotiations also resulted in the Reference Paper, a set of regulatory principles for basic telecommunication services that various members have inscribed in their schedules of commitments. Since 1997, the number of members that have undertaken market access commitments on telecommunications and subscribed to the Reference Paper has continued to increase as a result of new governments joining WTO through the process of accession. Under the JSI negotiations, participants are discussing a proposal that seeks to update the provisions of the Reference Paper.
Digital standards (1)
International standards are important to the global digital economy as they can enable interconnectivity and interoperability for telecommunications and internet infrastructures. The WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT Agreement) aims to ensure that technical regulations, standards, and conformity assessment procedures affecting trade in goods (including telecommunications products) are non-discriminatory and do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. The TBT Agreement strongly encourages that such regulatory measures be based on relevant international standards. The TBT Committee serves as a forum where governments discuss and address concerns with specific regulations, including those affecting digital trade. Examples of relevant TBT measures notified to or discussed at the TBT Committee include (1) measures addressing the internet of things (IoT) and related devices in terms of their safety, interoperability, national security/cybersecurity, performance, and quality; (2) measures regulating 5G cellular network technology for reasons related to, among others, national security and interoperability; (3) measures regulating 3D printing (additive manufacturing) devices; (4) measures regulating drones (small unmanned aircraft systems) due to risks for humans/consumers, interoperability problems, and national security risks; and (5) measures dealing with autonomous vehicles, mostly concerned with their safety and performance.
Cybersecurity issues have been addressed in several WTO bodies. For example, the TBT Committee has discussed national cybersecurity regulations applicable to information and communications technology (ICT) products and their potential impact on trade. In the TBT Committee, WTO members have raised specific trade concerns related to cybersecurity regulations. Some of the specific issues discussed include how cybersecurity regulations discriminating against foreign companies and technologies can negatively impact international trade in ICT products. Proposals on cybersecurity have also been tabled in the JSI on e-commerce where negotiations are ongoing.
The growth of the global digital economy is fuelled by data. Discussions on how provisions of WTO agreements apply to data flows are ongoing among WTO members. In this context, is particularly relevant, as it applies to trade in services such as (1) data transmission and data processing by any form of technology (e.g. mobile or cloud technologies); (2) new ICT business models such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS); (3) online distribution services e.g. (e-commerce market platforms); and (4) financial services such as mobile payments. The extent to which members can impose restrictions on data or information flows affecting trade in services is determined by their GATS schedules of commitments. Under the JSI, proposals on cross-border data flows have been submitted and are being discussed. These proposals envision a general rule establishing the free flow of data for commercial activities. Proposed exceptions to this general rule are, to a large extent, similar to the existing GATS General and Security Exceptions and relate to, for example, protection of personal data, protection of legitimate public policy objectives, national security interests, and exclusion of governmental data. Issues related to data flows have also been raised by members in other contexts at the WTO, such as in the Council for Trade in Services, for instance, when national cybersecurity measures adopted have been considered by some members as trade barriers.
Intellectual property rights
The TRIPS Agreement is a key international instrument for the protection of IP and is of relevance to e-commerce. The technologies that underpin the internet and enable digital commerce such as software, routers, networks, switches, and user interfaces are protected by IP. In addition, e-commerce transactions can involve digital products with IP-protected content, such as e-books, software, or blueprints for 3D-printing. As IP licences often regulate the usage rights for such intangible digital products, the TRIPS Agreement and the international IP Conventions provide much of the legal infrastructure for digital trade.
These conventions include:
- Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (1967)
- Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic works (1971)
- International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations (the Rome Convention) (1961)
- Treaty on Intellectual Property in Respect of Integrated Circuits (1989)
The role of IP in promoting innovation and trade in the digital age has been highlighted in recent WTO World Trade Reports.
WTO agreements cover a broad spectrum of trade topics, including some related to e-commerce, which has been on the WTO agenda since 1998 when the ministers adopted the Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce. The Declaration instructed the General Council to establish a Work Programme on electronic commerce. In that Declaration, members also agreed to continue the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions (the ’moratorium’). The Work Programme provides a broad definition of e-commerce and instructs four WTO bodies (Council for Trade in Goods; Council for Trade in Services; TRIPS Council; and the Committee on Trade and Development) to explore the relationship between WTO Agreements and e-commerce. The Work Programme and the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions have been periodically reviewed and renewed. At its recently concluded 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022, WTO members agreed to reinvigorate the Work Programme, particularly in line with its development dimension, and to intensify discussions on the moratorium, including on its scope, definition, and impact. Furthermore, members agreed to extend the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions until MC13 (2).
At MC11 in 2017, a group of members issued the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-Commerce to explore work towards future WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce. Following the exploratory work, in January 2019, 76 members confirmed their ‘intention to commence WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce’ and to ‘achieve a high standard out- come that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO members as possible’. Negotiations are continuing among 87 members (3) and are structured under 6 broad themes, namely enabling e-commerce, openness and e-commerce, trust and e-commerce, cross-cutting issues, telecommunications, and market access. JSI participants have reached a high degree of convergence on e-authentication and e-signatures, e-contracts, open government data, online consumer protection, unsolicited commercial electronic messages (spam), transparency, open internet access and paperless trading. Negotiations on electronic transactions frameworks, source code, cybersecurity, electronic invoicing, privacy, telecommunications, and customs duties on electronic transmissions continue. On the margins of the MC12, the co-convenors of the JSI (Australia, Japan, and Singapore), issued a statement underlining the importance of developing global rules on e-commerce and, together with Switzerland, launched the E-commerce Capacity Building Framework to strengthen digital inclusion and to help developing and least developed countries to harness the opportunities of digital trade.
Information Technology Agreement (ITA-I and ITA-II)
The ITA-I was concluded by 29 participants in 1996. Through this agreement, participating WTO members eliminated tariffs and other duties and charges (ODCs) on hundreds of ICT products – including computers, laptops, servers, routers, communication devices (i.e. mobile telephones), semiconductors, semiconductor manufacturing equipment and parts thereof – to foster the development of ICT global value chains and facilitate greater adoption of the ICT products that lie at the core of a global digital economy and power the downstream innovative and competitive capacity of every industry that deploys them. Currently, 83 WTO members are participants in ITA-I, accounting for approximately 97% of world trade in ITA-I products. As technology continues to evolve, ICT is found at the core of an ever-increasing range of products. At the MC10 in Nairobi in 2015, over 50 WTO members concluded ITA-II negotiations and agreed to expand the ITA product coverage by around 200 products. ICT products such as GPS navigation equipment, satellites, and medical equipment were included and tariffs on these products have been eliminated among ITA-II participants. At present, the ITA-II consists of 55 WTO members, representing over 90% of world trade in ITA-II products. The ITA is being discussed in the JSI under the market access focus group.
1-The issue of digital standards is addressed as ‘standards and regulations’ within the work of WTO.
3-87 Members as of end of September 2022: Albania; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahrain, Kingdom of; Belgium; Benin; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Côte D’Ivoire; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Ecuador; El Salvador; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Guatemala;Honduras; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; Indonesia; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Korea, Republic of; Kuwait, the State of; Latvia; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malaysia; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova, Republic of; Mongolia; Montenegro; Myanmar; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of; Singapore; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States; and Uruguay
4-The issue of arbitration is referred to under the issue of ‘market access’ within the work of WTO.
Acronym: ITU, UIT
Address: Place des Nations, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland
Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations
ITU is the United Nations specialised agency for information and communications technologies (ICTs), driving innovation in ICTs together with 193 member states and a membership of over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organisations. Established 157 years ago in 1865, ITU is the intergovernmental body responsible for coordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communications infrastructure in the developing world, and establishing the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems. From broadband networks to cutting-edge wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, intelligent transport systems, radio astronomy, oceanographic and satellite-based Earth monitoring as well as converging fixed-mobile phone, internet, cable television and broadcasting technologies, ITU is committed to connecting the world. For more information, visit www.itu.int.
Some of ITU’s key areas of action include radiocommunication services (such as satellite services, and fixed/mobile and broadcasting services), developing telecommunications networks (including future networks), standardisation of various areas and media related to telecommunications, and ensuring access to bridge the digital divide and addressing challenges in ICT accessibility. ITU’s work supports emerging technologies in fields such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), Intelligent Transport Systems, disaster management, agriculture, smart sustainable cities, 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
Information and communication infrastructure development is one of ITU’s priority areas. The organisation seeks to assist member states, sector members, associates, and academia in the implementation and development of broadband networks, wired (e.g. cable) 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 telecommunications networks in rural areas.
ITU’s International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) have as an overall aim the facilitation of global interconnection and interoperability of telecommunication facilities. Through the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R), 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 international standards developed by ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) enable the interconnection and interoperability of ICT networks, devices, and services worldwide. It has 11 technical standardisation committees called Study Groups (SGs), with mandates covering a wide range of digital technologies:
- SG2 – Operational Aspects
- SG3 – Economic & Policy Issues
- SG5 – Environment, EMF & Circular Economy
- SG9 – Broadband Cable & TV
- SG11 – Protocols, Testing & Combating Counterfeiting
- SG12 – Performance, QoS & QoE
- SG13 – Future Networks
- SG15 – Transport, Access & Home
- SG16 – Multimedia & Digital Technologies
- SG17 – Security
- SG20 – IoT, Smart Cities & Communities
The work on standards is complemented by short-term exploration/incubation ITU-T Focus Groups (FGs) whose deliverables guide the ITU-T SGs in new areas of standardisation work:
- ITU-T Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) for Digital Agriculture (FG- AI4A)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Health (FG-AI4H)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Environmental Efficiency for Artificial Intelligence and other Emerging Technologies (FG-AI4EE)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Vehicular Multimedia (FG-VM)
- ITU-T Focus Group on AI for Autonomous and Assisted Driving (FG-AI4AD)
- ITU-T Focus Group on AI for Natural Disaster Management (FG-AI4NDM)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Autonomous Networks (FG- AN)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Testbeds Federations for IMT- 2020 and Beyond (FG-TBFxG)
Collaboration among various standards bodies is a high priority of ITU-T. Various platforms were established to support coordination and collaboration on various topics, for example:
- eCollaboration on Intelligent Transport SystemsCommunication Standards (CITS)
- Global Standards Collaboration (GSC)
- World Standards Cooperation (WSC)
- Digital Currency Global Initiative
- Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI) Symposium
- United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) initiative
The Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) establishes an enabling environment and provides evidence-based policy-making through ICT indicators and regulatory and economic metrics, and implements a host of telecommunications/ICT projects.
In the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, 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.
Discussions involving the World Bank, Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), and the World Economic Forum identified how to bring together communities to support ITU membership in their response to COVID-19. The Speedboat Initiative issued a COVID-19 Crisis Response:
Digital Development Joint Action Plan and Call for Action to better leverage digital technologies and infrastructure in support of citizens, governments, and businesses during the pandemic.
Connect2Recover provides country-specific support to reinforce digital infrastructures – using telework, e-commerce, remote learning, and telemedicine to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to support recovery and preparedness for potential future pandemics. ITU worked with the Government of Japan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on this initiative. ITU/WHO Focus Group on AI for Health works on a standardised assessment framework for the evaluation of AI-based methods for health, diagnosis, triage, or treatment decisions and in early 2020 it created an Ad-hoc Group on Digital Technologies for COVID-19 Health Emergencies (AHG-DT4HE) to review the role of AI (and other digital technologies) in combatting COVID-19 throughout an epidemic’s life cycle; it also delivered guidance on digital technologies for COVID health emergency.
The impact statement for the Telecommunications Development Bureau’s (BDT) thematic priority on Network and Digital Infrastructure is ‘Reliable connectivity to everyone’.
ITU-D SG1 also focuses on various aspects related to telecommunications 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 aspects of national telecommunications/ICTs’; Question 5/1 on ‘Telecommunications/ICTs for rural and remote areas’; Question 6/1 on ‘Consumer information, protection and rights’; and Question 5/2 on ‘Adoption of telecommunications/ICTs and improving digital skills’.
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. ITU-R SGs together with the mobile broadband industry and a wide range of stakeholders established the 5G standards.
The activities 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 operate without interference.
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 ML 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).
ITU-R manages the coordination, notification, and recording of frequency assignments for space systems, including their associated earth stations. Its main role is to process and publish data and carry out the examination of frequency assignment notices submitted by administrations towards their eventual recording in the Master International Frequency Register.
ITU-R also develops and manages space-related assignment or allotment plans and provides mechanisms for the development of new satellite services by determining how to optimise the use of available and suitable orbital resources.
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.
Regarding climate change, satellite data today is 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.
ITU develops international standards contributing to the environmental sustainability of the ICT sector, as well as other industry sectors applying ICTs assembling technologies to increase efficiency and innovate their service offer. 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 is an integral part of the ITU mandate. To mitigate the impact of disasters, the 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 the timely flow of vital information that is needed to co-ordinate response efforts and save lives. ITU supports its member states in the four phases of disaster management:
- Design and implementation of national emergency telecommunications plans (NETPs).
- Development of tabletop simulation exercises.
- Design and implementation of multi-hazard early warning systems (MHEWS), including the common alerting protocol (CAP),
- Development of guidelines and other reports on the use of ICTs for disaster management.
ITU activities in the field of radiocommunications make an invaluable contribution to disaster management. They facilitate prediction, detection, and alerting through the coordinated 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-T SG2 plays a role as the lead study group on telecommunications for disaster relief/early warning, network resilience, and recovery. Other study groups are working on emergency telecommunications within their mandates. Examples are shown in the following paragraphs.
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 protection against environmental factors, focusing on 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 fibers of severed fiber-optic cables. And they provide for ‘movable and deployable ICT resource units’ in various sizes, such as emergency containers, vehicles, or hand-held kits housing network resources and a power source – to provide temporary replacements for destroyed ICT infrastructure.
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 (JTF) onSMART Cable Systems, a multidisciplinary body established in 2012. Currently, several projects are ongoing to realise SMART cables.
In ITU-D, a lot of effort is directed at mainstreaming disaster management in telecommunications/ICT projects and activities as part of disaster preparedness. This includes infrastructure development, and the establishment of enabling policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks. 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 damage to the network through the use of geographical information systems. On the basis of its findings, ITU and the host country embark on resuscitating the infrastructure while ensuring that disaster-resilient features are integrated to reduce network vulnerability in the event of disasters striking in the future.
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.
ITU-D SQ Question 3/1 ‘The use of telecommunications/ICTs for disaster risk reduction and management’ was agreed at the World Telecommunication Development Conference 2022 (WTDC-22) and will operate for the 2022–2025 study period. This Question continues the work of Question 5/2 of the 2018–2021 period.
The ITU/WMO/UNEP Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Natural Disaster Management (FG-AI4NDM), established by ITU-T SG2 has been developing best practices to leverage AI to assist with data collection and handling, improve modelling across spatiotemporal scales, and provide effective communication.
Work includes the following:
- Disruptive Technologies and Their Use in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, a 2019 report.
- The Global Forum on Emergency Telecommunications (GET-19), which took place 6–8 March 2019, Balaclava, Mauritius.
- National Emergency Telecommunication Plans.
- Emergency Telecommunication Simulation Exercises.
- ITU-DSG Question 5/2: Utilizing Telecommunications/ICTs for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management(2018 – 2021) with video and annual deliverables.
- The Guide to Develop a Telecommunications/ ICT Contingency Plan for a Pandemic Response 2020, Focused on Telecommunications/ICT Service Delivery and Business Continuity in the Context of a Pandemic.
- ITU published Women, ICT and Emergency Telecommunications – Opportunities and Constraints in 2020. It explores the digital gender divide blocking women from becoming equal stakeholders in society, putting entire communities at greater risk during emergencies.
- With the ETC, ITU developed the Disaster Connectivity Map (DCM), with information critical for first responders on network outages and connectivity gaps following disasters.
- ITU joined the Crisis Connectivity Charter(CCC) in 2019, joining the satellite industry and the humanitarian community in making satellite communication more available.
- ITU established an ITU Emergency Telecommunications Roster. ITU staff are trained on deployment of ITU telecommunications equipment and on supporting the ETC on the ground.
- ITU, with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), launched a Call to Action on Emergency Alerting in 2021, inviting all partners to support countries in implementing CAP. The organisations are supporting the WMO to establish a CAP HelpDesk.
- Strengthening the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems, ITU partnered with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), WMO, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO), and the World Broadcasting Unions in 2020 to develop Media Saves Lives to reinforce broadcasters’ role in the early warning chain.
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 (ML) 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.
AI for Good is organised by ITU in partnership with 40 UN sister agencies and co-convened with Switzerland. The goal of AI for Good is to identify practical applications of AI to advance the UN SDGs and scale those solutions for global impact. It’s the leading action-oriented, global, and inclusive UN platform on AI.
Various ITU-T SGs address aspects of AI and ML within their mandates. The work has so far resulted in ITU-T Recommendations and Supplements, for example, in the L-, M-, P-, and Y-series of ITU-T Recommendations.
The ITU-T AI/ML in 5G Challenge, introduced in 2020, rallies like-minded students and professionals from around the globe to study the practical application of AI and ML in emerging and future digital communications networks and sustainable development. The second Challenge (in 2021) attracted over 1,600 students and professionals from 82 countries, competing for prizes and global recognition. The 2022 Challenge covered a wide range of topics including AI/ML in 5G, GeoAI, and tinyML. By mapping emerging AI and ML solutions, the Challenge fostered a community to support the iterative evolution of ITU standards. To learn more, see the Challenge GitHub.
Several ITU-T FG are considering the use of AI and ML including:
- ITU-T Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) for Digital Agriculture (FG- AI4A)
- ITU-T Focus Group on AI for Natural Disaster Management (FG-AI4NDM)
- ITU-T Focus Group on AI for Autonomous and Assisted Driving (FG-AI4AD)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Environmental Efficiency for Artificial Intelligence and other Emerging Technologies (FG-AI4EE)
- ITU-T Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Health (FG-AI4H)
Main activities related to ITU-R SGs and reports include:
- ITU-R SG1 covers Spectrum Management and Monitoring. In relation to AI, Question ITU-R 241/1 ‘Methodologies for assessing or predicting spectrum availability’ was approved in 2019 and is under study.
- ITU-R SG6 covers all aspects for the broadcasting service. SG6 deliverables and work items related to AI and ML including Question ITU-R 144/6 ‘Use of artificial intelligence (AI) for broadcasting’; and Report ITU-R BT.2447 ‘Artificial intelligence systems for programme production and exchange’.
- AI forRoadSafetyinitiative: Launched in October 2021, the initiative promotes an AI-enhanced approach to reduce fatalities across road-safety management, safer roads and mobility, safer vehicles, safer road users, post-crash response, and speed control.
During the 40th High-Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) session in October 2020, an Interagency Working Group on AI (IAWG-AI) was established to focus on policy and programmatic coherence of AI activities within the UN. IAWG-AI, co-led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and ITU, aims to combine the ethical and technological parts of the UN to provide a solid foundation for current and future system-wide efforts on AI with a view to ensuring respect for human rights and accelerating progress on the SDGs. It is a joint effort between ITU and 46 UN agencies and bodies, all partners of AI for Good or members of the UN IAWG-AI. The report usually presents over 200 cases and projects run by the UN system, in areas covering all 17 SDGs and ranging from smart agriculture and food systems to transportation, financial services, healthcare, and AI solutions to combat COVID-19. In 2021, the report was presented for the first time with an Executive Summary, an analysis of all the projects submitted to the report, providing a snapshot of the key tracks, trends, and gaps in AI activities within the UN system.
The UN-led initiative, United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC), coordinated by ITU, UNECE, and UN-HABITAT and supported by 17 UN agencies and programmes, has been examining how AI can be employed in the smart city domain and through its Thematic Group on Guiding Principles for Artificial Intelligence in Cities for implementing AI-based solutions in line with the SDGs.
ITU, through its Development Sector, also holds an annual meeting for all telecommunications 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 SGs. Several areas under ITU-D SG2 explore applications of AI in various domains to support sustainable development.
Critical internet resources (1)
Over the years, 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)). ITU has also adopted a resolution on its role regarding 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 (CWG-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.
ITU is also the facilitator of WSIS Action Line С2 – Information and communication infrastructure.
Digital standards (2)
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 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 ML.
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 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 SGs. Over 4,000 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 SGs, covering ITU-T SG 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 ITU-T. This conference also approves the mandates of the Telecommunication Standardization Sector study group (ITU-T SSGs) (WTSA Resolution 2) and appoints the leadership teams of these groups.
ITU develops international standards supporting the co-ordinated development and application of IoT technologies, including standards leveraging IoT technologies to address urban-development challenges.
Internet of things (3)
It also facilitates international discussions on the public policy dimensions of smart cities, principally through the U4SSC 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 150 cities worldwide have adopted the indicators as part of a collaboration driven by ITU within the framework of the U4SSC initiative.
To complement the work of the U4SSC, the first U4SSC Country Hub has been set up in Vienna, Austria, hosted by the Austrian Economic Centre (AEC). The U4SSC Hub provides a unique platform to accelerate cooperation between the public and private sectors and helps facilitate digital transformation in cities and communities, while enabling technology and knowledge transfer.
The range of applications 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, is required to provide access to the network.
Alongside ITU-T studies on the IoT and smart cities, 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 ITU-R, as follows:
- Harmonisation of frequency ranges, and 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 SG2 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 identifies the trends and best practices implemented by member states as well as the challenges faced, to support sustainable development and foster smart societies in developing countries.
ITU-T SG20 is responsible for studies relating to the IoT and its applications, and smart cities and communities (SC&C). This includes studies relating to big data aspects of the IoT and SC&C, digital services for SC&C, and digital transformation of relevant IoT and SC&C aspects. ITU and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) for Digital Agriculture (FG- AI4A), established by ITU-T SG20, explores (1) how emerging technologies including AI and IoT can be leveraged for data acquisition and handling, (2) modelling from a growing volume of agricultural and geospatial data, and (3) providing communication for the optimisation of agricultural production processes.
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.
ITU reports provide potential blockchain adopters with a clear view of the technology and how it could best be applied. Developed by the FG DLT, these reports provide an ‘assessment framework’ to support efforts to understand the strengths and weaknesses of DLT platforms in different use cases. The Group has also produced a high-level DLT architecture – a reference framework – detailing the key elements of a DLT platform. The FG studied high-potential DLT use cases and DLT platforms said to meet the requirements of such use cases. These studies guided the Group’s abstraction of the common requirements necessary to describe a DLT architecture and associated assessment criteria. The resulting reports also offer insight into the potential of DLT to support the achievement of the SDGs.
Blockchain and DLT are also key to the work of the Digital Currency Global Initiative, a partnership between ITU and Stanford University to continue the work of an ITU Focus Group on Digital Currency including Digital Fiat Currency (FG DFC). The Digital Currency Global Initiative provides an open, neutral platform for dialogue, knowledge sharing, and research on the applications of Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) and other digital currency implementations. The initiative will share case studies of digital currency applications, benchmark best practices, and develop specifications to inform ITU standards.
ITU-T SG3 is studying economic and policy aspects when using distributed ledger technologies such as for the improved management of the Universal Service Fund or to handle accounting.
ITU-T SG5 is studying the environmental efficiency of digital technologies including blockchain. For example, ITU-T SG5 has developed Recommendation ITU-T L.1317 on guidelines for energy-efficient blockchain systems.
ITU-T SG16 Question 22/16 on multimedia aspects of DLT and e-services and ITU-T SG17 Question 14/17 on DLT security continue the work of the now closed ITU-T Focus Group on distributed ledger technologies. Several Recommendations and Technical Papers have been produced, and more are being prepared.
ITU-T SG20 Question 4/20 on data analytics, sharing, processing, and management, including big data aspects, of the IoT and SC&C, is studying the role of emerging technologies such as blockchain to support data processing and management (DPM).
ITU standards provide the requirements and functional architectures of the cloud ecosystem, covering inter- and intra-cloud computing and technologies supporting anything as a service (XaaS). These standards enable consistent end-to-end, multi-cloud management and the monitoring of services across different service providers’ domains and technologies. They were developed in view of the convergence of telecoms and computing technologies that characterises the cloud ecosystem.
Cloud services provide on-demand access to advanced ICT resources, enabling innovators to gain new capabilities without investing in new hardware or software. Cloud concepts are also fundamental to the evolution of ICT networking, helping networks to meet the requirements of an increasingly diverse range of ICT applications.
As innovation accelerates in fields such as IMT-2020/5G and the IoT and digital transformation takes hold in every industry sector, the cloud ecosystem will continue to grow in importance to companies large and small, in developing as well as developed countries.
ITU-D SG1 Question 3/1 of the 2018–2021 period focused on the analysis of factors influencing effective access to support cloud computing, as well as strategies, policies, and infrastructure investments to foster the emergence of a cloud-computing ecosystem in developing countries, among others. For 2022–2025, this topic will be studied under Question 2/2 ‘Enabling technologies for e-services and applications, including e-health and e-education’.
ITU’s range of work on emerging technologies in fields such as AI, 5G, IoT, SC&C, ITS, quantum information technologies, and others have been covered in various other sections.
ITU-T SG5 on Environment, Electromagnetic Fields (EMF), and the Circular Economy is responsible for ICTs related to the environment, energy efficiency, clean energy, and sustainable digitalisation for climate actions. It carries out work to study the environmental efficiency of emerging technologies.
ITU-T SG20 Question 5/20 on the study of emerging digital technologies, terminology and definitions, serves as a facilitator with the research and innovation community to identify emerging technologies requiring standardisation for the global market and the industry.
U4SSC, through its various thematic groups, explores how leveraging emerging technologies such as the IoT, AI, blockchain, and digital twin, can help create a sustainable ecosystem and improve the delivery of urban services to improve quality of life for inhabitants. In this context, U4SSC has published the following reports:
- Digital Solutions for Integrated City Management and Use Cases
Quantum information technology
Quantum information technology (QIT) improves information processing capability by harnessing the principles of quantum mechanics. It has promoted the second quantum revolution and will profoundly impact ICT networks and digital security.
ITU’s work in the area of QIT includes developing standards. For example, several ITU-T SGs, including SGs 11, 13, and 17 are developing ITU-T Recommendations in this field. The work has so far resulted in ITU-T Recommendations and Supplements in the X-, and Y-series of ITU-T Recommendations.
The ITU-T Focus Groupon Quantum Information Technology for Networks (FG-QIT4N) provided a collaborative platform for pre-standardisation aspects of QIT for networks. It adopted nine technical reports.
A 2021 webinar series explores innovative QIT applications and their implications on security, on classical computing and ICT networks and the discussion of corresponding roadmaps for quantum networks.
ITU and the WSIS Action Line C5 – Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs, bringing different stakeholders together to forge meaningful partnerships to help countries address the risks associated with ICTs. This includes adopting national cybersecurity strategies, facilitating the establishment of national incident response capabilities, developing international security standards, protecting children online, and building capacity.
ITU develops international standards to build confidence and security in the use of ICTs, especially for digital transformation. Topics of growing significance to this work include digital identity infrastructure, cybersecurity management, security aspects of digital financial services, intelligent transport systems, blockchain and distributed ledger technology, and quantum information technologies.
ITU-T SG17 (Security) is the lead SG on building confidence and security in the use of ICTs; facilitating more secure network infrastructure, services, and applications; and coordinating security-related work across ITU-T SGs. Providing security by ICTs and ensuring security for ICTs are both major study areas for SG17. Other ITU-T SGs, such as ITU-T SG9 (Broadband Cable and TV) and ITU-T SG13 (Future Networks, with Focus on IMT-2020, Cloud Computing and Trusted Network Infrastructures) contributed to fulfilling the ITU mandate on cybersecurity.
ITU-TSG5 (Environment, EMF, and the Circular Economy) studies the security of ICT systems concerning electromagnetic phenomena (High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP), High Power Electromagnetic (HPEM), information leakage).
ITU-T SG11 (Protocols, testing & combating counterfeiting) is developing a series of new ITU-T Recommendations (e.g. ITU-T Q.3057), which define the signalling architecture and requirements for interconnection between trustable network entities in support of existing and emerging networks. This Recommendation describes the use of digital signatures (digital certificates) in the signalling exchange which may guarantee the trustworthiness of the sender. More details are available at http://itu.int/go/SIG- SECURITY.
ITU-T SG20 Question 6/20 on Security, privacy, trust and identification for IoT and SC&C, is working on developing recommendations, reports, and guidelines on security and trust provisioning in IoT both at the ICT infrastructure and future heterogeneous converged service environments. ITU-R established clear security principles for IMT (3G, 4G and 5G) networks.
In 2008, ITU launched a five-pillared framework called the Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA) to encourage co-operation with and between various partners in enhancing cybersecurity globally. The cybersecurity programme offers its membership, particularly developing countries, the tools to increase cybersecurity capabilities at the national level in order to enhance security, and build confidence and trust in the use of ICTs. The 2022 session of the ITU Council approved guidelines for better utilisation of the GCA framework by ITU.
ITU serves as a neutral and global platform for dialogue around policy actions in the interests of cybersecurity.
ITU issues the Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) to shed light on the commitment of ITU member states to cybersecurity at the global level. The index is a trusted reference developed as a multistakeholder effort managed by ITU. In the last iteration of the GCI, 150 member states participated.
Alongside the ITU-T’s development of technical standards in support of security and ITU-R’s establishment of security principles for 3G and 4G networks, ITU also assists in building cybersecurity capacity.
This capacity-building work helps countries to define cybersecurity strategies, assists the establishment of computer incident response teams (CIRTs), supports the protection of children online, and assists countries in building human capacity relevant to security.
Strategies: ITU assists member states in developing and improving effective national cybersecurity frameworks or strategies. At the national level, cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, which requires coordinated action for prevention, preparation, and response on the part of government agencies, authorities, the private sector, and civil society. To ensure a safe, secure, and resilient digital sphere, a comprehensive national framework or strategy is necessary.
CIRTs: Effective mechanisms and institutional structures are necessary at the national level to deal with cyberthreats and incidents reliably. ITU assists member states in establishing and enhancing national CIRTs. In response to the fast-evolving technologies and manifestation of related threats, incident response must be updated and improved continuously.
Building human capacity:
- ITU conducts regional and national cyber drills, assisting member states in improving cybersecurity readiness, protection, and incident response capabilities at regional and national levels, and strengthening international cooperation among ITU member states against cyberthreats and cyberattacks. To date, ITU has conducted cyber drills involving over 100 countries.
- ITU’s Development Bureau organises regional cybersecurity forums across ITU regions, helping build capacity for Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) programmes and facilitating cooperation at the regional and international levels.
- Through the ITU Academy, ITU offers a number of training courses for professionals in the field of cybersecurity.
- BitSight provided access to ITU member states for its cybersecurity scoring platform – helping address cybersecurity challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and to support member states’ health infrastructure with timely information on cyberthreats.
- The Women in Cyber Mentorship Programme builds skills of junior women professionals entering the field of cybersecurity.
International cooperation: In its efforts on cybersecurity, ITU works closely with partners from international organisations, the private sector, and academia, strengthened by a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a range of organisations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), World Bank, Interpol, World Economic Forum, and several others.
Child safety online (4)
As part of its Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA), ITU launched the Child Online Protection (COP) Initiative in 2008, aimed at creating an international collaborative network and promoting the protection of children globally from all kinds of risks and harms related to the online environment, all while empowering children to fully benefit from the opportunities that the internet offers. The initiative focuses on the development of child online protection strategies covering five key areas: legal measures, technical and procedural measures, organisational structures, capacity building, and international cooperation.
Approaching child online safety with a holistic child-rights-based approach, the initiative has recently added to its key objectives the participation of children in policy-making processes related to child online protection as well as the digital skills development for children and their families.
In collaboration with other organisations, ITU has produced four sets of the 2020 Child Online Protection (COP) Guidelines, aimed at children, parents, guardians, and educators, as well as industry and policymakers. The first set of COP Guidelines were produced in 2009. The ITU Council Working Group on Child Protection Online (WG- CP) guides the organisation’s activities in the area of child safety online.
ITU has launched or supported a range of COP responses specific to COVID-19, including:
- Global Education Coalition for COVID-19 response – a collaboration between UNESCO, UNICEF, ITU, WHO, GSMA, and Microsoft.
- Agenda for Action to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19 on children.
- COVID-19 and its Implications for Protecting Children Online (2020) – in collaboration with UNICEF, Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children (GPEVAC), UNESCO, UNODC, WePROTECT Global Alliance, WHO, and World Childhood Foundation USA (Childhood USA).
- ITU signed an agreement with the SCORT Foundation on COP to empower and protect children online and offline, both in sport and through sport. It has contributed to discussions such as Safer Internet Day 2021 and the 15th European Football for Development Conference.
- Creating a Safe and Empowering Cyber Environment for Children (a 2020 agreement between ITU and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) kicked-off in August 2021 to further strengthen global efforts to implement the ITU COP Guidelines. The programme implements child online safety policies among governments, industry, and civil society and focuses on fostering a culture of child online safety.
The need for sustained efforts to expand internet access at a global level and bring more people online has been outlined in several resolutions adopted by ITU bodies. The organisation is actively contributing to such efforts, mainly through projects targeted at developing countries and focused on aspects such as human and institutional capacity building, education, and digital literacy; deployment of telecommunications networks and establishment of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs); the creation of broadband public access points to the internet; and the development and implementation of enabling policies in areas such as universal access. The organisation is also studying access-related issues within its various study groups, and it publishes relevant papers and studies. ITU also monitors progress made by countries in addressing the digital divide, through its periodically updated statistics and studies such as the ICT Facts and Figures and the series of Measuring Digital Development reports, including its analysis of ICT prices. The ITU DataHub brings together a broad range of indicators and statistics for easy consultation and download. The Connect 2030 Agenda envisions specific targets related to internet access; for instance by 2023, 65% of households worldwide will have access to the internet; by 2023, 70% of individuals worldwide will have with access to the internet; and by 2023, internet access should be 25% more affordable.
Access is treated in most meaningful connectivity-related Questions of ITU-D SG1 including:
- 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 to and adoption of digital technologies for broadcasting, including to provide new services for various environments.
- Question 4/1 on economic aspects of national telecommunications/ICTs.
- Question 5/1 on telecommunications/ICTs for rural and remote areas.
- Question 6/1 on consumer information, protection and rights.
ITU is the facilitator of WSIS Action Line С2 – Information and communication infrastructure.
ITU is heavily involved in capacity development activities, mainly aimed at assisting countries in developing their policy and regulatory frameworks in various digital policy areas, ranging from the deployment or expansion of broadband networks, to fighting cybercrime and enhancing cybersecurity. The ITU Academy provides a wide range of general and specialised courses on various aspects related to ICTs. Such courses are delivered online, face-to-face, or in a blended manner, and span a wide variety of topics, from technologies and services, to policies and regulations. ITU also develops digital skills at basic and intermediate level to citizens through its Digital Transformation Centre (DTC) Initiative.
The Digital Regulation Handbook and Platform is the result of ongoing collaboration between ITU and the World Bank, which started in 2000. Structured by thematic areas, the Digital Regulation Platform aims to provide practical guidance and best practice for policymakers and regulators across the globe concerned with harnessing the benefits of the digital economy and society for their citizens and firms. The content provides an update on the basics of ICT regulation in light of the digital transformation sweeping across sectors and also includes new regulatory aspects and tools for ICT regulators to consider when making regulatory decisions.
The inclusivity of the ITU standardisation platform is supported by ITU’s Bridging the Standardization Gap (BSG) programme as well as regional groups within ITU-T SGs. The BSG hands-on SG effectiveness training and updated guidelines for National Standardization Secretariats (NSS) assist developing countries in developing the practical skills and national procedures required to maximise the effectiveness of their participation in the ITU standardisation process.
Digital services and applications
The Digital Services and Applications programme offers member states the tools to leverage digital technology and ICT applications to address their most pressing needs and bring real impact to people, with an emphasis on increasing availability and extending services in areas such as digital health, digital agriculture, digital government, and digital learning, as well as cross-sectoral initiatives to accelerate sustainable development such as smart villages.
To effectively harness digital services and applications for socio-economic development, the programme facilitates:
- development of national sectoral digital strategy (including toolkits, guidelines, capacity building, action plans, and evaluations);
- deployment of innovative digital services and applications to improve the delivery of value-added services, leveraging strategic partnerships as catalysts;
- knowledge and best practice sharing through studies, research, and awareness raising, connecting stakeholders in converging ecosystems; and
- addressing emerging technology trends – such as big data and AI – by collecting and sharing best practices.
ITU works on helping member states create and mature their digital innovation ecosystems. The Digital Ecosystem Thematic Priority has developed a framework to help countries develop appropriate ICT-centric innovation policies, strategies, and programmes; share evidence- based best practices; and implement bankable projects to close the digital innovation gap. Countries are empowered to develop an environment that is conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship, where advances in new technologies become a key driver for the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Connect 2030 agenda.
ITU assists member states through its events, courses, publications, toolkits, and provision of technical advice. Its Ecosystem Development Projects initiative, for example, provides holistic advisory services including ecosystem diagnosis, risk assessment, good practice transfer, and capacity building. Events include its National and Regional Innovation Forums, which bring ecosystem stakeholders together to equip them with the skills to build their national innovation ecosystems; the ITU Innovation Challenges, which identify the best ICT innovators from around the world and equip them with skills to scale their ideas to truly impact their communities; courses on developing and maturing ecosystems (available at the ITU Academy); and Digital Innovation Profiles, which provide a snapshot of a country’s ecosystem status and allowing them to identify and fill the gaps using ITU tools and expertise.
ITU, as the UN specialised agency for ICTs, continues to support its membership and to contribute to the worldwide efforts to advance the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieve its SDGs.
The 17 SDGs and their 169 related targets offer a holistic vision for the UN system. The role and contribution of ICTs as essential catalysts to fast-forward achievement of the SDGs is clearly highlighted and has come into focus since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Infrastructure, connectivity, and ICTs have demonstrated their great contribution and potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divides, and to develop digital societies.
ITU has a key role to play, in realising its main goals of universal connectivity and sustainable digital transformation, in contributing to achieving the SDGs. ITU contributes to the achievement of the SDGs with four levels of involvement:
- ICTs as an enabler: ITU can be seen as a contributor to all SDGs through the benefits that ICTs bring to societies and economies.
- Focus: SDGs with no specific reference to ICTs but where ITU has demonstrated to have a clear impact through the benefits ICTs bring to specific sectors and activities (e.g. e-health, digital inclusion, smart cities, e-waste, climate change). These are SDGs 1, 3, 10, 11, 12, and 13.
- Key focus: SDGs where ITU has a particularly strong impact due to its initiatives, and is custodian of some indicators. These are SDG 4 (Quality Education), with its Target 4b to ‘… expand globally the number of scholarships, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and ICTs, technical, engineering and scientific programmes…’; and SDG 5 (Gender Equality), Target 5.b on ‘…the use of enabling technology, in particular ICTs, to promote the empowerment of women’. And Indicator 5b.1 on the ownership of mobile phones, by sex.
- Main key focus: SDGs where ITU maximises its contribution, such as SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure) and SDG 17 (Partnership for the Goals). Here ITUis also custodian of related Targets 9.c on ‘…. ICTs to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet…’; and its Indicator 9c.1 on coverage by a mobile network and by technology. As well as Target 17.8 to ‘….enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology’; and its Indicator 17.8.1 about individuals using the internet.
The ITU Connect 2030 Agenda is specifically dedicated to leveraging telecommunications/ICTs, including broadband, for sustainable development. The agenda is built around five goals: growth, inclusiveness, sustainability, innovation, and partnership. In addition, ITU-D works on fostering international cooperation on telecommunications and ICT development issues, and enhancing environmental protection, climate change adaptation, emergency telecommunications, and disaster mitigation and management efforts through telecommunications and ICTs. These and other related issues are explored in reports, guidelines, and recommendations produced by ITU-D SGs. Additionally, ITU-T SGs such as ITU-T SG5 on Environment, EMF, and the Circular Economy is the lead SG and develops standards on circular economy and e-waste management, ICTs related to the environment, energy efficiency, clean energy, and sustainable digitalisation for climate actions, which help to achieve the SDGs.
The ITU strategic plan is aligned to the WSIS Action Lines and SDGs. Since 2015, the WSIS process has been aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to ensure that ICTs play the enabling role in advancing the SDGs.
Inclusive finance (5)
ITU has built a substantial programme of work in support of digital financial inclusion. ITU standards for digital finance address the security of telecommunications infrastructure (Signalling System No. 7 (SS7)) vulnerabilities, SIM vulnerabilities and SIM fraud), process for managing risks, threats, and vulnerabilities for digital finance service providers, assessing the quality of service of mobile networks to improve reliability and user experience for digital financial services and methodology for auditing the security of mobile payment applications to assess their level of security assurance. They provide for a high quality service and user experience, and safeguard security to build trust in digital finance.
ITU’s work in this field has included the ITU Focus Group on Digital Financial Services (2014–2017), the ITU Focus Group on Digital Currency including Digital Fiat Currency (2017–2019), and the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (2017–2021), a four-year programme to advance research in digital finance and accelerate digital financial inclusion in developing countries co-led by ITU, the World Bank Group, and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures, and with financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. ITU has also set up a Digital Financial Services (DFS) Security Lab to collaborate with regulators from both the telecom and financial services sectors in emerging economies as well as regional telecom bodies such as the Communications Regulators’ Association of Southern Africa (CRASA), The East African Communications Organization (EACO), and West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly (WATRA) to adopt the recommendations developed under the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative and assess the security of mobile payments applications. The methodology developed for the security audit of mobile payment applications would be developed into a digital public good standard in the future. Through the Security Lab, some 17 security clinics have been held in Africa, Latin America, and Asia regions, providing information and technical guidance to regulators, DFS providers and mobile network operators in those regions on how to adopt the security recommendations for digital finance.
ITU organised the Insights on Digital Financial Services webinar series in 2020 with the objective of providing insights on the innovative applications of telecommunications services, digital payments, and fintech in addressing COVID-triggered social distancing and lockdown and sharing lessons learned from governments and DFS stakeholders on the measures that they are implementing. Twelve webinars were held between May and December 2020 attracting over 1,000 unique participants from 105 countries. The webinars focused on topics such as digital identity, strong authentication technologies, security of digital financial transactions, handling fraud and scams, tracking digital financial crimes and fraud, digital credit technologies, mitigating telecom infrastructure vulnerabilities for digital finance and central bank digital currency.
ITU and Stanford University launched the Digital Currency Global Initiative (DCGI) in 2020 to continue the work of the ITU Focus Group on Digital Currency including Digital Fiat Currency. The DCGI provides an open and neutral platform for dialogue, knowledge sharing, and research on the applications of Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) and other digital currency implementations.
ITU works in developing policies, standards, frameworks, and guidelines for the efficient disposal of e-waste to achieve a circular economy. ITU has the mandate to promote awareness of the environmental issues associated with telecommunication/ICT equipment design and encourage energy efficiency and the use of materials in the design and fabrication of telecommunication/ICT equipment that contributes to a clean and safe environment throughout its lifecycle (Res.182 (Rev. Busan, 2014));
ITU works towards achieving the 2023 targets related to waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), or ‘e-waste’, established in 2018 by the Plenipotentiary Conference by: increasing the global e-waste recycling rate to 30%; and raising the percentage of countries with e-waste legislation to 50%.
ITU-D has been mandated to assist developing countries in undertaking a proper assessment of the size of e-waste and in initiating pilot projects to achieve environmentally sound management of e-waste through e-waste collection, dismantling, refurbishing, and recycling. To this end, the organisation supports countries in developing national policies on e-waste, and works together with industry partners from the public and private sectors to stimulate coordinated actions towards a circular economy model. ITU-D and ITU-T SGs also explore issues related to ICTs and the environment.
ITU-T has been mandated to pursue and strengthen the development of ITU activities in regard to handling and controlling e-waste from telecommunication and information technology equipment and methods of treating it; and to develop recommendations, methodologies, and other publications relating to sustainable management of e-waste resulting from telecommunications/ICT equipment and products, and appropriate guidelines on the implementation of these recommendations. ITU-T SG5 on Environment, EMF, and the Circular Economy is the lead ITU-T SG on the circular economy and e-waste management.
ITU-T SG5 has a dedicated Question (Q7/5) on ‘E-waste, circular economy, and sustainable supply chain management’. This Question seeks to address the e-waste challenge by identifying the environmental requirements of digital technologies including IoT, end-user equipment, and ICT infrastructures or installations, based on the circular economy principles and improving the supply chain management in line with SDG 12, target 12.5 by 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.
A case study on the Implementation of ITU-T Standards on Sustainable Management of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment: The Path to a Circular Economy in Costa Rica was published in 2021.
In 2021, ITU with the World Economic Forum released a toolkit on extended producer responsibility for e-waste management, with a focus on African countries.
Rights of persons with disabilities (6)
Globally, ITU has continued conducting technical work in ITU-R, ITU-T, and ITU-D SGs advancing the use of telecommunications and ICTs for persons with disabilities; and developing resources to support member states in establishing environments that ensure accessible telecommunications/ICTs – work conducted with the participation of persons with disabilities and aligned with the Connect 2030 Agenda. ITU-D advanced regional initiatives linked to ICT accessibility, with projects, training, and events, and provided support to ITU administrations in almost every region, including organising Accessible Americas and Accessible events. More information is available here.
ITU-D Study Question 7/1 continues to focus on telecommunication/ICT accessibility to enable inclusive communication, especially for persons with disabilities for 2022–2025 as has been agreed at WTDC–22.
The 2021 released SG Question 7/1 report (available free of charge in all UN official languages) with its accompanying video and the focused workshop and webinar confirm the careful attention given to this topic.
ITU’s work on accessibility includes regional events, ICT accessibility assessment, and the publication of new resources and handbooks. ITU has developed capacity-building materials to promote the adoption of accessible solutions, including 15 video tutorials on development and remediation of accessible digital content.
A range of activities is detailed below.
- ITU Regional Knowledge Development Platforms/Forums
- ITU has organised regional events that allow ITU members and stakeholders to share good practices and challenges, and to help develop digitally inclusive societies in these regions. Further regional events are set out below.
- Accessible Asia-Pacific (ASP): Regional Dialogue on Digital Transformation: Gearing Up for Inclusive and Sustainable Development, virtual event, 2021.
- Accessible Arab Region: ICT for ALL, Egypt, 2021, in partnership with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA). Participants identified ways forward to implement and mainstream digital accessibility, showing how technology can ensure inclusiveness and empowerment of all.
- Accessible Americas: ICT for ALL, Cuba 2021, featured discussions with policymakers and stakeholders on ICT/digital accessibility in the context of COVID-19.
- Accessible Africa, virtual, 2021. Five online, interactive workshops sought to strengthen the capacity of 175 regional Focal Points from 42 African countries on ICT/digital accessibility.
- Accessible Europe: ICT for ALL 2021, virtual, 2021. Over 240 participants from more than 40 countries discussed how to remove barriers to enable the social inclusion of persons with disabilities, through cooperation, programmes, and training.
- Accessible the Commonwealth of independent states (CIS): In 2021 the CIS Region has shown increased interest in ICT accessibility implementation to ensure equal digital empowerment through ICT.
Assessing and monitoring the implementation of ICT accessibility
- ITU Self-Assessment and Toolkit for ICT AccessibilityImplementation: Towards building InclusiveDigital Communities. This resource supports all ITU members, policymakers, and stakeholders in building inclusive digital communities. It also enables countries and organisations to assess themselves, obtaining an immediate overview of the level of their ICT accessibility implementation.
- ICT Accessibility Assessment for the Europe Region provides ICT accessibility assessment for the Europe region. See also the ITU Assessment of Digital Accessibility Policies in Serbia.
WSIS Forum 2021: ICTs and Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities and Specific Needs
- WSIS Forum 2021 featured ICTs and Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities and Specific Needs, with virtual workshops on innovative technologies, bringing together experts and stakeholders to discuss how to leverage ICTs to help people with blindness and vision impairment and how to provide inclusive education for all – showcasing emerging assistive technologies.
Self-paced online training courses
- In 2021, two self-paced online training courses in ICT accessibility were developed, available in Arabic, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Both ICT Accessibility: The key to inclusive communication and Web Accessibility – The Cornerstone of an Inclusive Digital Society are delivered through ITU Academy in three modules.
Other accessibility resources
- Additional ICT accessibility training and resources are available here. The update to the Handbook on Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Broadcasting networks and systems implementation outlining Accessibility to broadcasting services for persons with disabilities is also part of ITU’s accessibility work.
Events and opportunities to support the global implementation of ICT accessibility
- ITU contributed to the development of the Disability Inclusion Practice Note on ICT & Digital Accessibility and its Additional Resources. ITU participated in the Digital Inclusion Summit – Leaving No One Behind, organised by the International Training Centre in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) (July 2021). In 2019, the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy (UN DIS) was adopted, including significant inputs from ITU. In 2020, ITU prepared its report on the strategy implementation and reviewed its Accessibility Policy accordingly
- ITU contributed to the first-ever celebration of Universal Design Day in 2021.
- ITU shared its expertise on ICT accessibility and disability inclusion with 131 UN Country Teams’ representatives during two webinars on ICT and Digital Accessibility, held virtually in 2021.
Making ITU a more accessible organisation for persons with disabilities
- ITU continues to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities, including staff, delegates, and the general public.
- To ensure the structure and content of ITU websites, videos, publications, digital documents, and digital information are all digitally accessible, training events are under preparation (will take place in February 2022).
- To provide fully accessible ITU events, an invitation to bid for the provision of real-time captioning was completed in November 2021. Proposals for captioning in French, Spanish, and Chinese have been submitted.
- In 2019, ITU provided captioning across ITU events and major conferences, sign language interpretation in selected ITU-T accessibility meetings and in making ITU websites accessible. ITU has also modified internal production to generate accessible publications in the six official languages.
COVID-19: Ensuring digital information is accessible to all
- In March 2020, ITU issued COVID guidelines on how to develop inclusive digital information products and services through different digital platforms, in all six official UN languages. The guidelines contain messages and concrete actions to support policymakers and communicators in ensuring that COVID- related messages and vital digital information are accessible to all people, including persons with disabilities. These ITU guidelines were globally disseminated and translated into 22 other languages within the framework of the UN joint COVID-19 response and recovery emergency working group on the health workstream.
- To ensure that deaf and hard of hearing persons were not excluded, ITU produced a Guideline on web-based remote sign language interpretation or video remote interpretation.
Gender rights online (7)
ITU is involved in activities aimed at promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls through ICTs.
ITU is custodian of three gender-related SDG indicators: the proportion of individuals who (1) own a mobile phone; (2) use the internet; and (3) have ICT skills. ITU’s Measuring Digital Development: Facts and Figures 2021 shows that, in all regions, the gender Internet divide has been narrowing in recent years, and calls for more action on cultural, financial, and skills-related barriers that impede Internet uptake among women. ITU has launched several targeted efforts to bridge the gender digital divide and advance the Connect 2030 Agenda. Below are some highlights of ITU’s work on gender.
Together with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations University (UNU), GSMA, and the International Trade Centre (ITC), ITU launched the EQUALS Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age with over 100 partners working together to ensure that women are given access, are equipped with skills, and develop the leadership potential to work in the ICT industry. Under this initiative, ITU contributes with the annual flagship event the EQUALS in Tech Awards. The awards are given every year to organisations and individuals working to help girls and women gain equal internet access, learn digital skills, and find opportunities in the tech industry. The initiative is dedicated to encouraging girls and young women to consider studies and careers in ICTs.
The African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI) was started in Africa in collaboration with UN Women and the African Union Commission (AUC) with the aim to train and empower girls and young women aged 17 to 20 across Africa to become computer programmers, creators, and designers. The initiative has also been launched in the Americas region with a focus on equipping girls with coding skills and generating interest in the pursuit of ICT careers.
ITU WRC-19 also adopted a declaration that promotes gender equality, equity, and parity in the work of the ITU Radiocommunication Sector.
ITU is also the facilitator of WSIS Action Line C4 – Capacity building.
Network of Women (NoW): Encouraging gender balance
Encouraging and tracking gender-balanced representation and nominations of women for key roles strengthens women’s participation in ITU meetings. The aim is to build a community where female delegates can network, share their experience, and promote the participation of women – increasing their visibility, empowering them, and encouraging experienced female delegates to mentor ICT professionals in the digital space.
In 2021, BDT launched the Network of Women (NoW) at the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) to increase the number of women participating in ITU-D meetings and taking up leadership roles in preparing the WTDC itself. Within this framework, ITU launched the global mentorship programme and fireside discussions.
At the World Radiocommunication Seminar Online 2020, ITU-R launched the NoW for WRC-23 to promote gender equality, equity and parity within the ITU Radiocommunication Sector. The NoW for WRC-19 (#NOW4WRC19) efforts culminated in a Declaration on Promoting Gender Equality, Equity and Parity in the ITU Radiocommunication Sector, adopted at WRC-19 in Sharm El-Sheikh.
Capacity-building that empowers indigenous communities through technology
Capacity-building training for indigenous communities has empowered indigenous people and communities through technology. The training is tailored to needs and interests and has taken into account self-sustainability aspects and cultural legacy.
The programme has reached 70 indigenous participants throughout the Americas, 21 of whom have completed the full programme – from Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru. Thirty per cent of participants were indigenous women.
The course Technical Promoters in Telecommunications and Broadcasting in Indigenous Communities requires one year of study and trains indigenous professionals in maintaining indigenous networks from infrastructure to communication delivery. The module boosts the professional development of professionals and ability to contribute to their communities’ socio-economic development and self-sustainability.
A further course in 2021, on Innovative Communication Tools on How to Develop, Manage and Operate an Indigenous Radio Network was offered to 141 indigenous participants over two editions. Countries represented included Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Thirty per cent of participants completed all five units of the course, 40.5% of whom were indigenous women.
ITU and UNESCO are developing activities for rollout at the WSIS Forum 2022 as contributions to the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022–2032).
Working for digital inclusion for older people-raising awareness and building resources
For the first time, ITU has addressed digital inclusion for older people by raising awareness on the topic, leveraging the capacity of ITU members and stakeholders, providing policy and strategy guidelines, and developing resources to support global efforts to overcome this socio-economic challenge.
Resources supporting older persons in the digital world.
- A video tutorial covering ageing in a digital world, with captions in all UN languages.
- Ageing in a Digital World – From Vulnerable to Valuable.
- Self-paced online training: ICTs for Better Ageing and Livelihood in the Digital Landscape. This ITU Academy training is available in English, French, and Spanish and addresses local digital inclusion policies, strategies and good practices.
The World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2022 (WTISD 2022) was dedicated to the theme: Digital technologies for older persons and healthy ageing.
ITU contributing to UN work
- Social Isolation and Loneliness Among Older People: Advocacy Brief – highlights the growing public health and policy concern about these issues, made more salient by the COVID-19 pandemic. ITU contributed to the development of this WHO/UN Women brief.
- ITU contributed to the celebration of the UN International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP) in 2021 in the Digital Inclusion For All Ages event jointly organised with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), the Office of the Secretary’s-General Envoy on Technology, and the NGO Committee on Ageing.
Working for increased youth engagement
The ITU Youth Strategy ensures the participation of youth in ITU in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The strategy is built on three pillars: creating a community of young leaders, bringing young people together to engage with ITU and members, and fostering participation in ITU activities. More than 40 Youth Task Force members across ITU are coordinating efforts to implement the ITU Youth Strategy.
The initiatives detailed below have been implemented as part of the ITU Youth Strategy.
Generation Connect Initiative
Generation Connect Visionaries Board
The Generation Connect Visionaries Board offers guidance to ITU on its youth-related work. The Board, composed of ITU representatives, eight young leaders, and eight high- level appointees, advises on the Youth Summit and the Youth Strategy.
Road to Addis Series – Digital Inclusion and Youth Events
The ITU Road to Addis series of events has a strong youth component. An event on International Youth Day 2021 saw participation of youth as equal partners alongside the leaders of today’s digital change, while the Partner2Connect Meeting 2021 launched the Partner2Connect Coalition.
Implementation of the I-CoDI Youth Challenge
In 2020, ITU organised the International Centre of Digital Innovation (I-CoDI) Youth Challenge on connecting the unconnected. Winning pitches focused on technology and network development, cybersecurity, digital inclusion, climate change and environment, and capacity building.
Generation Connect Virtual Communities
In 2021, ITU launched on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram the new Generation Connect Virtual communities, inviting youth from the regions to join.
ITU: Current co-chair of the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development
Since March 2021, ITU has been the co-chair of the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development (IANYD) with a one-year mandate. The Network increases the effectiveness of UN work in youth development by strengthening collaboration and exchange across UN entities.
Capacity Building on Meaningful Youth Engagement
Training on Meaningful Youth Engagement for UN staff was delivered to ITU staff in 2020; 174 ITU staff attended, including top management, members of the ITU Youth Task Force, and professional and administrative staff. This training was followed in 2020 by two Pitch for Youth workshops, where teams proposed ideas to an ITU jury on youth engagement initiatives.
Collaboration with the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth
ITU works with the Office of the Envoy on Youth to align the ITU Youth Strategy with the United Nations Youth Strategy: Youth 2030. ITU has engaged with the UN Youth Envoy in various ways including the co-creation of the Digital Technology session of the #YouthLead Innovation Festival and collaboration on how online efforts are helping improve children’s online safety.
- In 2020, ITU mounted a Youth Engagement Survey to consult on how ITU can best engage. The results of this survey informed the ITU Youth Strategy.
- Kaleidoscope 2018: Machine Learning for a 5G Future was hosted by Universidad Tecnológica Nacional, Santa Fe, Argentina. Young authors, up to 30 years of age, presenting papers received Young Author Recognition certificates.
The WSIS process was initiated by ITU in 1998 and it led the organisation of the Summits in 2003 and 2005 in coordination with the UN system. In line with its mandate and the WSIS outcome documents, ITU continues playing a key lead coordination role in WSIS implementation and follow-up.
The WSIS Forum represents the world’s largest annual gathering of the ICT for development community. Co-organised by ITU, UNESCO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and in close collaboration with all WSIS Action Line Facilitators/Co-Facilitator, the forum has proven to be an efficient mechanism for coordinating multistakeholder implementation activities, exchanging information, creating knowledge, and sharing best practices. It continues to provide assistance in developing multistakeholder and public/private partnerships to advance development goals. The forum provides structured opportunities to network, learn, and participate in multistakeholder discussions and consultations on WSIS implementation.
The ITU Contribution to the Implementation of the WSIS Outcomes is an annual comprehensive report on ITU activities in the WSIS context from all the three sectors of the organisation (radiocommunication, standardisation, and development sectors) and the General Secretariat on the activities implemented during the respective year. The report provides updates on the tasks carried out by ITU at the operational and policy levels, covering all assigned mandates with reference to the WSIS process.
ITU plays a leading facilitating role in the WSIS implementation process, in collaboration with more than 30 UN agencies in creating an environment for just and equal information and knowledge societies. As per Resolution 1332 (modified 2019) ITU membership resolved to use the WSIS framework as the foundation through which it helps the world to leverage ICTs in achieving the 2030 Agenda, within its mandate and within the allocated resources in the financial plan and biennial budget, noting the WSIS- SDG Matrix developed by UN agencies, This close interlink between the WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs and targets can serve as an important basis for work on relevant areas outlined in relevant ongoing processes, for example UN SGs Our Common Agenda and so on.
ITU’s role in the WSIS process, highlighting the varying role along the WSIS Action Lines:
- ITU is the sole facilitator for three different WSIS Action Lines: C2 (Information and communication infrastructure), C5 (Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs), and C6 (Enabling environment).
- ITU has also been taking the lead role in facilitating WSIS Action Line C4 (Capacity building)
- ITU contributes to all the remaining WSIS Action Lines that are facilitated by other WSIS stakeholders.
The WSIS-SDG Matrix developed by UN WSIS Action Line Facilitators serves as the mechanism to map, analyse, and coordinate the implementation of WSIS Action Lines, and more specifically, ICTs as enablers and accelerators of the SDGs. This mapping exercise draws direct links between the WSIS Action Lines and the proposed SDGs to continue strengthening the impact of ICTs for sustainable development. Building on the Matrix, the Agenda and outcomes of the WSIS Forum are clearly linked to WSIS Action lines and the SDGs highlighting the impact and importance of ICTs on sustainable development.
The WSIS Stocktaking Process provides a register of activities – including projects, programmes, training initiatives, conferences, websites, guidelines, and toolkits – carried out by governments, international organisations, the private sector, civil society, and other entities. To that end, in accordance with paragraph 120 of the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society adopted by WSIS, ITU has been maintaining the WSIS Stocktaking Database since 2004 as a publicly accessible system providing information on ICT-related initiatives and projects with reference to the 11 WSIS action lines (Geneva Plan of Action). The principal role of the WSIS Stocktaking exercise is to leverage the activities of stakeholders working on the implementation of WSIS outcomes and share knowledge and experience of projects by replicating successful models designed to achieve the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The WSIS Prizes contest was developed in response to requests from WSIS stakeholders to create an effective mechanism to evaluate projects and activities that leverage the power of ICTs to advance sustainable development. Since its inception, WSIS Prizes has attracted more than 350,000 stakeholders. Following the outcomes of the UN General Assembly Overall Review on WSIS (Res. A/70/125) that called for a close alignment between the WSIS process and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Res. A/70/1), WSIS Prizes continues to serve as the unique global platform to identify and showcase success stories in the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs.
The United Nations Group on Information Society (UNGIS) is the UN system’s inter-agency mechanism for advancing policy coherence and programme co-ordination on matters related to ICTs in support of internationally agreed development goals. Established in 2006 after WSIS, its mandate includes promoting collaboration and partnerships among the members of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) to contribute to the achievement of the WSIS goals, providing guidance on issues related to inclusive information and knowledge societies, helping maintain issues related to science and technology at the top of the UN Agenda, and mainstreaming ICT for Development in the mandate of CEB members.
UNGIS remains committed and contributed to the alignment of the WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs.
Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development is an international, multistakeholder initiative to improve the availability and quality of ICT data and indicators.
ITU also works in close collaboration with the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology and in 2022 announced a first-ever set of targets for universal and meaningful digital connectivity to be achieved by 2030.
The universal meaningful connectivity targets were developed as part of the implementation of the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and aim to provide concrete benchmarks for sustainable, inclusive global progress in specified action areas, such as (1) Universality, (2) Technology, and (3) Affordability. These 15 aspirational targets are meant to help countries and stakeholders prioritise interventions, monitor progress, evaluate policy effectiveness, and galvanise efforts around achieving universal and meaningful connectivity by 2030. They are also meant as a contribution towards the forthcoming Global Digital Compact, as proposed in the UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report. A first assessment of how the world currently stands in relation to the targets is available on ITU’s website here.
Digital tools and initiatives
- Various platforms used for online meetings: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and ITU’s MyMeetings platform.
- The value of ITU-T’s advanced electronic working environment was highlighted in 2020. Virtual meetings and electronic working methods have come to form the principal platform for ITU standardisation work as part of the global response to COVID-19. ITU members engaged in standard development are making optimal use of ITU’s personalised MyWorkspace platform and associated services and tools (e.g. MyMeetings).
Giga: UNICEF-ITU global initiative
Giga is a UNICEF-ITU global initiative to connect every school to the internet and every young person to information, opportunity, and choice.
Access to broadband internet and digital learning is critical to global efforts to transform education to make it more inclusive, equitable, and effective. Yet right now, the ability to leverage digital resources is far from equitably distributed: 1.3 billion children have no access to the internet at home and only around half of the world’s schools are online. This digital exclusion particularly affects the poorest children, girls, and those with disabilities.
These learners miss out on the resources online, the option to learn remotely, and the opportunity to develop digital skills. In 2019, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and ITU joined forces to address this new form of inequality by creating Giga, a unique global partnership with the bold ambition to connect every school in the world to the internet by 2030.
What Giga does
- Giga maps schools and their internet access. No one knows how many schools there are in the world (approximately 6-7 million). Giga’s Project Connect map provides a real-time display of access and gaps to guide funders and governments, and to enable accountability. Gigahasmappedover1.1millionschoolsin50countries.
- It creates models for innovative financing. It could cost over $400 billion to connect every unconnected school. Gigaisworking withadiverse array ofpartners to develop solutions for affordable, sustainable connectivity and aims to mobilise $5 billion to catalyse investment in vital connectivity infrastructure.
- Giga supports governments contracting for connectivity. It helps governments to design the regulatory frameworks, technology solutions, and competitive procurement processes needed to get schools online. Giga and its partners have connected over 2.1 million students in over 5,500 schools.
1 – In the work of ITU the issues related to critical internet resources are dealt with as ‘internet public-policy related work’.
2 – In the work of ITU the issue of digital standards is addressed as ‘International standards’.
3 – Within the work of ITU, the work related to the IoT also includes ‘Smart cities’.
4 – Within the work of ITU, child safety online is addressed as ‘Child online protection’.
5 – Within the work of ITU, the issues related to inclusive finance are addressed as ‘Digital Financial Services (DFS)’.
6 – Within the work of ITU the rights of persons with disabilities are addressed as ‘ICT /digital accessibility for all including persons with disabilities’.
7 – Within the work of ITU, gender rights online is addressed as ‘Gender digital divide‘.
Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations
The IGF provides the most comprehensive coverage of digital policy issues on the global level. The IGF Secretariat in Geneva coordinates both the planning of IGF annual meetings (working together with the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) and the wider IGF community) and a series of intersessional activities (run all year long). These activities could be summarised in three ‘multi’ initiatives:
- Multistakeholder participation: It involves governments, business, civil society, the technical community, academia, and other actors who affect or are affected by digital policy This diversity is reflected in IGF processes, events, and consultations.
- Multidisciplinary coverage: It relates to addressing policy issues from technological, legal, security, human rights, economic, development, and sociocultural perspectives. For example, data, as a governance issue, is addressed from standardisation, e-commerce, privacy, and security perspectives.
- Multilevel approach: It spans IGF deliberations from the local level to the global level, through a network of over 150 national, subregional, and regional IGF They provide context for discussions on digital policy like the real-life impact of digitalisation on policy, economic, social, and cultural fabric of local communities. The IGF Secretariat supports such initiatives (which are independent) and coordinates the participation of the overall network.
The IGF ecosystem converges around the annual IGF, which is attended by thousands of participants. The last few IGFs include Paris (2018), Berlin (2019), online edition due to the pandemic (2020), and Katowice (2021), involving over 10,000 participants, more than 1,000 speakers in over 300 sessions.
The intersessional work includes best practice forums (on issues such as cybersecurity, local content, data and new technologies, and gender and access); dynamic coalitions (on issues such as community connectivity, network neutrality, accessibility and disability, and child safety online etc.); policy networks (on environment, meaningful access and Internet fragmentation); and other projects such as Policy Options for Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion(s) (which ran between 2015 and 2018) as well as a number of capacity development activities.
The IGF mandate was outlined in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS, November 2005). It was renewed for another 10 years by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 16 December 2015, (70/125).
The main functions of the IGF are specified in Article 72 of the Tunis Agenda. 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.
- Facilitate discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting international public policies regarding the internet and discuss issues that do not fall within the scope of any existing body.
- Interface with appropriate inter-governmental organisations and other institutions on matters under their purview.
- Facilitate the exchange of information and best practices, and in this regard, make full use of the expertise of the academic, scientific, and technical communities.
- Advise all stakeholders in proposing ways and means to accelerate the availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world.
- Strengthen and enhance the engagement of stakeholders in existing and/or future internet governance mechanisms, particularly those from developing countries.
- Identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and where appropriate, make recommendations.
- Contribute to capacity building for internet governance in developing countries, drawing on local sources of knowledge and expertise.
- Promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in internet governance processes.
- Discuss, inter alia, issues relating to critical internet resources.
- Help to find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the internet, of particular concern to everyday users.
- Publish its proceedings.
In fulfilling its mandate, the Forum is institutionally supported by the UN Secretariat for the Internet Governance Forum placed with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Its working modalities also include MAG and most recently the Leadership Panel, both appointed by the UN Secretary-General.
Digital policy issues
Until 2019, IGF annual meetings used to host sessions tackling a wide range of digital policy issues (for instance, IGF 2018 had eight themes: cybersecurity, trust, and privacy; development, innovation, and economic issues; digital inclusion and accessibility; human rights, gender, and youth; emerging technologies; evolution of internet governance; media and content; and technical and operational issues). In 2019, in an effort to bring more focus within the IGF, the MAG decided (considering community input) to structure the IGF programme around a limited number of tracks: security, safety, stability, and resilience; data governance; and digital inclusion. This approach was kept for IGF 2020, which saw four thematic tracks: data, environment, inclusion, and trust. The thematic approach did not mean that the IGF saw some digital policy issues as being less relevant than others, but rather that it encouraged discussions at the intersection of multiple issues. The Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) Digital Watch reporting for IGF 2020 and IGF 2019 illustrates this trend, showing that the IGF discussed a wide range of policy issues (across all seven internet governance baskets of issues) within the limited number of thematic tracks.
The leadership panel
In line with the IGF mandate and as recommended in the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the UN Secretary-General established the IGF Leadership Panel as a strategic, empowered, multistakeholder body, to address urgent, strategic issues, and highlight Forum discussions and possible follow-up actions to promote greater impact and dissemination of IGF discussions.
More specifically, the Panel provides strategic inputs and advice on the IGF; promotes the IGF and its outputs; supports both high-level and at-large stakeholder engagement in the IGF and IGF fundraising efforts; exchanges IGF outputs with other stakeholders and relevant forums; and feeds input from these decision-makers and forums to the IGF’s agenda-setting process, leveraging relevant MAG expertise.
The 10-member Panel meets at least three times a year.
Future of meetings
Since its first meeting in Athens (2006), the IGF has been a pioneer in online deliberation and hybrid meetings. In addition to individual online participation, the IGF has encouraged the development of a network of remote hubs where participants meet locally while following online deliberations from the global IGF. In this way the IGF has created a unique interplay between local and global deliberations through the use of technology. For hybrid meetings delivered in situ and online, the IGF developed the function of remote moderator, who ensures that there is smooth interplay between online and in situ discussions.