|Issue:||Latin America II 1998|
|Topic:||Bold Measures to Improve Access to Telecommunications Worldwide|
|Author:||Mr. Alberto Gabrielli|
|Organisation:||Comision Nacional de Comunicaciones of Argentina|
The World Telecommunication Development Conference concluded on April 1st, 1998, with delegates from 143 countries adopting the Valletta Declaration and Action Plan. The Plan puts together six mutually reinforcing programmes of action to achieve universal access, a special programme for LDCs and a programme of co-operation for governments, the industry and regional/international organisations. This article highlights the gist of these programmes.
The World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-98) organised by the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) was held in Valleta, Malta from March 23rd to April 1st, 1998. Around 875 policy makers, regulators, government delegates and representatives from international organisations attended the 10-day conference at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, which focused on new strategies that can be deployed to improve the level of access to telecommunications throughout the developing world. The Conference reviewed the results of global telecommunications since the last World Telecommunication Development Conference held in Buenos Aires in 1994, as well as current major policy issues; it examined technologies for the future, adopted a Strategic Plan for the Development Sector of the ITU, as well as an Action Plan for development partners – governments and industry alike – for the years 1998-2002. The Conference also considered financing, innovative forms of – co-operation, and defined and established a common vision and strategies for achieving balanced telecommunications development by and beyond the end of the century. The Valletta Declaration The Valletta Declaration encapsulates the main messages of the Conference and underlines the importance of translating the indisputable potential of telecommunications into tangible results to improve the lives of all people of the world, especially those in developing countries. It recognises that, in the prevailing environment of converging technologies and globalisation, the time is ripe for restructuring the telecommunications sector in order to stimulate private sector investment and accelerate the pace of expansion and modernisation of telecommunications networks in developing countries. The Declaration stresses the positive changes in providing telecommunications services in rural and remote areas where they are generally becoming more profitable, thanks to the emergence of more cost-effective technologies and innovative and entrepreneurial approaches that can be used to implement such services. It highlights the fact that convergence is opening up new perspectives for the sector, providing opportunities for tele-education, telemedicine, environmental protection and many other applications that are highly beneficial for social and economical development. It recalls that the telecommunications sector has a high profit potential in every country of the world but retained telecommunications earnings in developing countries are not sufficient to finance all new projects: networks are underdeveloped and do not generate enough cash flow. The Declaration emphasises that to turn the situation around, adequate policies must be adopted within the framework of a stable and transparent environment aimed at promoting fair competition, while protecting network integrity and guaranteeing the rights of users, operators and investors. As regards the Global Information Society (GIS) and the Global Information Infrastructure (GII), of which the Internet is a precursor, governance issues need to take into account the interests of all nations. The Declaration underlines the special role that ITU is to play in advising policy makers on the options available in tailoring policies and regulatory structures to fit a country’s unique requirements. The ITU’s commitment to focus development activities on the major facets of telecommunications development is reaffirmed; priority areas include sector and regulatory reform, accounting rate reform, management of technologies, finance and investment and human resources. ITU is urged to encourage and support universal service, global access and fair pricing, and to give special attention to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The Valletta Action Plan The outcome of the Conference was the adoption of the Valletta Declaration and Action Plan by delegates representing 143 countries. The three-pronged Valletta Action Plan puts together six mutually reinforcing programmes of action to achieve universal access, a special programme for LDCs and a programme of co-operation for governments, industry and regional/international organisations that are members of the ITU-D Sector. Special Programme for LDCs Another component of the Valletta Action Plan is the special programme for LDCs. It proposed to introduce a new strategy that seeks to concentrate the Union’s effort to some selected LDCs in partnership arrangements between the country and other development partners, which the ITU will mobilise to help. The programme aims to make a difference in over half of the neediest LDCs in the next four years, a focused, result-oriented assistance scheme at the rate of 4 to 8 projects a year, depending on resources. The objectives are to: · Reform the telecommunications sector so as to introduce new structures more amenable to faster and sustained telecommunications development, with well managed and modern networks; · Increase the teledensity to levels that would help achieve universal access to those services. Programme of Cupertino for Governments, the Industry and Regional/International Organisations The programme of Cupertino will be achieved through the work of world and regional telecommunications development conferences, at Study groups or through the work of the Telecommunication Development Advisory Group. A Task Force on Gender issues will also provide a conduit for co-operation, for women and other disadvantaged groups of society to participate fully in policy and decision-making and to gain access to telecommunications services and infrastructure. Plenary Meeting At the last Plenary meeting, the Conference chairman, Mr Edgar Borg, said that it was with a sense of nostalgia that he was bidding farewell to the many delegates, and added that the friendships forged and cultivated along the past 10 days contributed greatly to the success of the Conference. “As we tried to reach compromise on various issues, and remove obstacles hindering us in achieving a consensus, we have never doubted the ultimate success of this World Telecommunication Development Conference”, he said. Borg then thanked the secretariat from Maltacom and from ITU for the support he was given, and the delegates and chairmen of committees and working groups for their co-operation, understanding and sense of good will. “Let us start working on the Valletta Action Plan and other action points emerging from this Conference to make our vision a reality”, he concluded. The Conference elected the chairmen of the two study groups appointed to develop further and translate in concrete guidelines the main policy orientation identified at the Conference. Mr. Alberto Gabrielli, Director of the Comision Nacional de Comunicaciones of Argentina and Chairman of Committee A of the WTDC 98, was elected Chairman of Study Group 1, and Mr. Nabil Kisrawi, Permanent Representative of Syria to the ITU and Chairman of the WTDC 98 Working Group of the Plenary on the Valletta Action Plan, was elected Chairman of Study Group 2. Study Group 1 is responsible for Telecommunication Development, Strategies and Policies, and Study Group 2 for Development, Harmonisation, Management and Maintenance of Telecommunication Networks and Services, including Spectrum Management. Conference Closing The Conference wound up at 21:00 on April 1st, 1998, with a closing ceremony. In his closing remarks Mr. Joe Mizzi, Minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office, and chairman of the Conference, said delegates had reason to be proud of the work they had accomplished and said that ITU’s message that telecommunications is a country’s strategic and key factor for social and economic development had been echoed by all those who had participated in the Conference. “The Valletta Declaration and the Valletta Action Plan adopted today are an achievement of which this Conference should be proud. I am sure that these two documents give us the necessary mandates to direct our attention and our efforts towards those issues that will sustain our work over the coming four years and allow us to build on what has been achieved in the past and to look with optimism to the future”, he said. “We shall leave with the firm knowledge that we have together given our people well defined mechanisms that will see us through the new millennium and beyond. The commitments which we, governments and administrations, have agreed upon during this conference must now be put into effect through the direct involvement and participation of our citizens”. BDT Director, Ahmed Laouyane, taking the floor at the closing ceremony, told delegates that the noble objective of universal access for all mankind could be achieved by the turn of the decade if they really wanted. “We have agreed on the strategic objectives f’or the next four years as now embedded in the Valletta Declaration and in the Strategic Plan of the Development Sector. We have identified the mechanisms which would permit to achieve the objectives given in the Valletta Action Plan”. Further, Mr. Laouyane went on to say that, “In addition, the Conference ratified solemnly the concept of partnerships for development, which, I am convinced, constitute the most promising avenue and the preferred means of achieving the objective of universal access”. He said that the support given to the idea of promoting a new concept presented by Brazil (‘incubators’ for small and medium enterprises), reinforced his conviction that the telecommunications sector, like many others, rests as much on the development of small and medium enterprises as it does on ambitious large-scale projects. He told delegates, “The real challenge now consists in transforming threats in opportunities for all partners. Like for all innovations and inventions, positive aspects are always accompanied by adverse effects that we must fence off. Liberalisation, restructuring, privatisation, new trade in services regime, new technologies, new Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite (GMPCS) systems, can greatly contribute to the development efforts of developing countries. But only in so far as it corresponds to a willingness and indigenous process and not following external pressures”. “The Valletta Declaration, the Valletta Action Plan-and the Strategic Plan may be the most visible outcomes of the conference”, he added. But more importantly, networking between men and women from all regions of the world to discuss development issues, as partners on equal footing made it possible to transcend our differences. “The Valletta Spirit clearly gives us the path to attaining our common objective: access to communications for all men and women of the planet”, he concluded. Taking the floor, ITU Secretary General, Pekka Tarjanne, said the achievements of the Valletta Conference were the result, in the best tradition of the ITU, of good communication, mutual respect, common sense and a willingness to compromise among delegates, even on the most difficult issues. “When we began our work ten days ago, I proposed that this conference aspire to start a new telecommunications revolution, a revolution focused on human values, a revolution whose goal would be universal access to basic communication and information services – ‘the right to communicate’.” He was pleased to see that at the conclusion of the conference, not only had this goal been inspiring all delegations, but that it had indeed been achieved. At a press conference held at the close of the convention on Wednesday night, Mr. Mizzi referred to the Valletta Conference as a landmark event, representing a radical departure from the first WTDC. “The Action plan contains a series of concrete measures and strategies that will translate the indisputable potential of telecommunications into real improvements in network development to improve the lives of all peoples of the world, especially those in developing countries”, he told journalists. He concluded that he considered that “the new four-year plan is a pragmatic one, one that is promising and can be implemented nationally and locally. One clear message came out of the discussions: real progress must be made in the countries currently lagging behind, if we do not want, instead of creating a Global Information Infrastructure, to merely cement in place the old inequalities which have kept poor countries from benefiting from prosperity and growth. In that respect, the Valletta Conference may well go down in history as a turning point for global telecommunications development. The tools are in everyone’s hands, the Valletta Action Plan provides the guidance to use them”. Responding to a question regarding the discussions on the role of women in telecommunications development, Dr. Tarjanne spoke of the need to ensure that all segments of society have access to telecommunications. He argued that, “For the first time at ITU, gender issues were brought up and I am pleased that it did. But we must widen the scope of the discussions so as to include all under-served categories of society whether the handicapped, the elderly or the youth”. Concluding that, “Without access to telecommunication and information technologies, underprivileged groups cannot live a normal life in an information society”. The ITU Deputy Secretary General, Dr. Henry Chasia, also responding to a question on the significance of universal access in Africa, said that shop-keepers, doctors or postmasters, all needed access to information to perform more efficiently and help development at the grass root level. “Today, in Africa, to move information, you move people. It is time-consuming, costly and inefficient”, he said, adding that, “a telephone line today means much more than voice telephony. It means access to the Internet, video-based applications such as health-care or tele-education or exchange of information locally or globally”. He concluded that, “we cannot talk of a Global Information Society if more than half the world does not have access to telecommunications”. Mr. Laouyane said that the widespread transformation of the telecommunications sector we are witnessing – from the restructuring of institutions to new service trading regimes – were feared, and often justifiably so, by many developing countries. He proposed that rather than “being victimised by these sweeping changes, countries have every interest in taking advantage of the promises they carry so that the development gap could be turned around to their benefit”. Programme 1: Reform, legislation and regulation of telecommunications Assist governments in the preparation and implementation of reform, keeping in view the technological convergence of telecommunications, broadcasting and informatics, and with regard to the progressive globalisation of the telecommunications and broadcasting sector. It will explore various ways to assist governments in developing the structure of the regulatory body, the mechanisms to finance the regulatory bodies to ensure independence and to assist in training, licensing, staffing needs and overall management. Programme 2: Technologies and GII development and applications including GMPCS and Internet Assist developing countries in the integration of new technologies when they plan, build, operate, upgrade and manage their networks and services. The programme will be based on applied research and the transfer of technological knowledge. With a view to providing greater network reliability and quality of service, the programme will also focus on management issues, marketing techniques and the introduction of new services, taking into account the recent trends in telecommunications, broadcasting and informatics development. Programme 3: Rural development and universal access Promotion of universal access will be stepped up, not only to basic telecommunications, but also to broadcasting and to value-added services such as the Internet. Priority will be given to continuing the support to the ongoing programme of rural Multipurpose Community Telecentre (MCT) pilot projects and the Spacecom project. The pilot projects will provide answers to questions related to choice of technology, policy and regulations, tariffs and financing strategies and partnership arrangements, capacity building and marketing of services, etc. They will also provide a test bed for development of content and services adapted to the particular needs and conditions of developing countries. Programme 4: Finance & economics, including WTO issues, tariffs, accounting rates, etc. Primarily targeted at the LDCs, this programme is to assist governments in the introduction of new financing schemes for the development of their telecommunications networks, including public service broadcasting networks. The objective is also to develop national competency in the negotiation process, in view of the multilateral liberalisation of services within the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and to provide advice on how to deal with the consequences of the reform of the international accounting and settlement system and assist them in the review of their international settlement policy. Programme 5: Development of partnerships with private sector Promote partnership arrangements with the private sector in all activities related to telecommunications, broadcasting and informatics development and in particular in: · Financing pilot projects · Establishing development funds for rural development · Funding international and regional projects, establishing joint ventures with and among public and private entities · Sponsoring any activities related to the telecoms sector development and of mutual benefit to the partners Programme 6: Human Resources Development and Management Provide support in the human resource management and development, organisation development, and management development areas. Four main activities are proposed: · Assistance: guidance to telecoms organisations in the areas of HRM/HRD, organisation and management development · Transfer of know-how through training · Sharing of experiences and know-how among Members of ITU and members of the Development Sector · Distribution of information