First ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in UAE kicks off with call to connect everyone to Internet

UN body calls for world to "act as one" to connect everyone to the Internet.
ITU, UN, United Nations, United Arab Emirates, Dubai, UAE, International Telecommunications Union, Vanuatu, Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, Future, Society, ICT, Information and communications technology, Communications, TRA, Comms, Technology, Advancement, Development, Equality, Internet, Connectivity, Charlot Salwai, Houlin Zhao


The first plenipotentiary meeting of the International Telecommunication Union's 20th Plenipotentiary Conference in Dubai. Photo credit: Ben Mack

The first International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference to take place in the United Arab Emirates has officially begun.

The ITU’s 20th Plenipotentiary Conference (known as PP-18) opened on Monday with a global call for the world to “act as one” to connect the world’s nearly four billion people who remain unconnected to the Internet.

Held every four years, the event kicked off at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) in Dubai, and will run until November 16.

“Holding the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in the United Arab Emirates is a testament from the ITU and the international telecommunications community to the UAE’s achievements in the field of rational use of telecommunications technology for the benefit of humanity, state building, as well as the economy and civilisation,” said H.E. Talal Humaid Belhoul, chair of the Board of Directors of the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), on behalf of the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General, said more. “New technologies like 5G, artificial intelligence, big data and the Internet of Things will change how we live, work and learn in ways that have yet to be imagined,” he said. “And ITU is in the front seat. The challenge before us today is to ensure that these technologies and ICTs in general continue to be a source for good for everyone across the world.”

The Plenipotentiary Conference is the highest decision-making body of ITU, the United Nations specialised agency for information and communications technology (ICT). The conference is the key event at which ITU member states build consensus on key international ICT issues, elect leaders for top posts, and decide on a roadmap for the ITU’s work over the next four years, including strategic and financial plans.

“We face a crucial challenge: harnessing the benefits of new technologies for all, while safeguarding against the risks from their misuse,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, in a video message to the global audience. “Together, we can nurture a digital future that is safe and beneficial for all.”

A midday reception hosted by Australia – at which there were copious images of kangaroos and emus – within DWTC’s cavernous Zabeel Hall was followed by the opening plenipotentiary session, which kicked off at about 2:30 p.m. in an even more cavernous room. In attendance were representatives from more than 193 member states, as well as hundreds of private and government organisations and academic institutions including the African Union, Huawei, Facebook, and the SAMENA Telecommunications Council.

The session kicked off with an address by Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas, who said ICT must “contribute to the prosperity of all humanity.”

He said: “The ICT sector is no longer an individual nation’s issue,” adding “rapid and accelerating advances in digital technologies are poised to transform small, developing island nations,” and such advancements can both disrupt traditional ways of life, but also offer opportunities amid global change.

Salwai’s speech was followed by an address from Afghanistan Chief Executive (an extra-constitutional post following the nation’s 2014 election) Dr Abdullah Abdullah. He spoke about the great good ICT had the potential to bring about, particularly in regards to bringing people together and promoting peace. “The development in the field of ICT has revolutionised the life of every human being,” he said.

The ITU’s Zhao said the plenipotentiary session opening was the first time two heads of government had addresses an ITU Plenipotentiary Conference.
He said: “I’m very confident ICT will be a tool for development and peace.”

More than 2,500 participants are expected to attend PP-18 during its duration.

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