|Topic:||Cooperation and coordination of the Information Society|
|Organisation:||Federal Network Agency for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Post and Railway, Germany|
Matthias Kurth is the President of Germany’s Federal Network Agency for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Post and Railway, having previously been its Vice President. During his career, he has been Director of Business Development, Law and Regulation for COLT Telekom GmbH, Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Administration of the Ministers of Economics, at federal and state level, and Member of the Supervisory Board of the Deutsche Ausgleichsbank. Mr Kurth has also been Representative of the State of Hesse in the Committee of the Regions of the European Union, Representative of the State of Hesse in the Regulatory Council for Posts and Telecommunications, State Secretary in the Hesse Ministry of Economics, Transport and Urban and Regional Development, Head of Administration and Permanent Deputy of the Minister, Parliamentary Secretary and Deputy Chairman of the SPD Group in the Land Parliament, member of the Presidium of the Hesse Land Parliament and judge at the Darmstadt Regional Court. Mathias Kurth studied Law and Economics at Frankfurt am Main University, and was a postgraduate Legal trainee in the Administration of Justice of the State of Hesse.
The Information Society, spawned by the Internet, has changed the world. The computer is now an integral part of the lives and work most of people in the developed world. The challenge is to incorporate the rest of the world’s people in the Information Society, the goal of the World Summit on the Information Society. Technical challenges abound, as do challenges resulting from differences in educational opportunities and between cultures. These will take widespread international cooperation and coordination to overcome.
Today’s society is often called the Information Society. The Internet and other modern forms of communication have greatly changed the world. In the industrial countries, the computer is now a fact of life for most people, both in the office and at home. Less developed countries are catching up strongly in communications technologies and the use of the Internet, benefiting from the falling prices of digital systems and from tried and tested established standards. The fact that we have just welcomed the two billionth GSM subscriber in the international mobile networks is chiefly the result of the recent tremendous growth in markets such as those of China and India, and has less to do with virtually saturated markets such as those in Western Europe. The Internet has brought fundamental changes to our lives. Today, we talk about our Information Society. Whereas the availability of information was largely education-dependent in the past, in the age of the Information Society anyone can access a great amount of freely available knowledge on the Internet. Today, the difficulty is not so much access to knowledge as finding and filtering out information from the vast data resources of the Internet. Of course, we must still be able to understand the information provided, so that education continues to feature prominently. Access to the Internet, and knowing how to use this medium, are an essential part of education today. In the same way as schools taught mathematics and languages in the past, children now learn Internet skills. The worldwide development of the Information Society must therefore address two issues. First, as much of the population as possible must be given access to the Internet. Second, the use of the Internet itself, and the management of information must be widely taught, so that the Information Society is not exclusive, confined only to parts of society, but inclusive, encompassing the whole of society. Much effort from many stakeholders will be required to achieve this admittedly ambitious goal. In November, leaders from politics, administration, business, industry associations and non-governmental organisations will be meeting in Tunisia for the World Summit on the Information Society. The aim is to take the Information Society forward and to agree upon common actions. In this, we face multiple challenges. The information, media and telecommunications industry is in the middle of a huge process of technological change. In technical terms, the Internet Protocol and the potential of next generation networks will greatly alter the telecommunications and media landscape. The Internet and traditional, circuit-switched voice telephony, each previously delivered over distinct networks, are now merging. We must be mindful that these systems have fundamentally different designs, use different technologies and, as they converge, problems can arise. For instance, traditional telephony uses an international numbering system administered by the ITU, but ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) awards the top-level domains for the Internet, and private organisations administer national addresses. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) shows, without a shadow of a doubt, that interoperability between the Internet and traditional, circuit-switched networks is vital. Common projects are absolutely necessary to facilitate interoperability. This is particularly important for network operators not wishing, or not able, to convert their networks in the short or medium term. On no account may we allow users to experience disadvantage because ‘any-to-any’ communications, say, are compromised. Yet the immense benefits of the Information Society are tempered by risks. New technologies and services create fresh potential for fraud and misuse. The damage caused in Europe alone by spam, phishing, unlawful diallers, Trojan horses, worms and viruses already total several billion euros annually, and the figure is rising. Such activities have deterred many, to a greater or lesser extent, from using services like online banking, online shopping or premium rate services. Online sales would be much higher if the Internet were more secure. The cost savings from online banking or e-services, for instance, could benefit companies and customers equally. A crisis of confidence for Internet users, brought about if fraud and misuse got out of hand, would result in incalculable economic harm to the international economy. For that reason, further progress on Internet governance issues is crucial. Given all these challenges, it is clear there can and will be no new super-organisation taking charge to tackle and overcome all the problems. Rather, multiple measures with input from all concerned are needed if we are to achieve our aims. Yet it will be necessary to coordinate these measures to avoid duplicated effort. Thus, my wish for the Summit is that we concern ourselves less with who plays the leading role in taking the Information Society forward than with thinking about what each and every stakeholder can do to contribute and how we can coordinate our work in a meaningful way. The ITU, as the oldest and most broadly accepted international organisation for telecommunications, has managed to deliver good results regarding the technical aspects of network interoperability, security and quality of service. Therefore, the ITU is the ideal platform and partner for all aspects of the Next Generation Network structure. I am sure that we can resolve the problems if we approach the Summit in this spirit. Only thus, can the growth potential of the world’s markets be fully realised and the entire global economy boosted.