Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Secretary-General, ITU speaks during GSR-23

GSR-23: A defining moment for digital regulators

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Secretary-General, ITU

Technology is accelerating at a pace we have never seen before – and calls for regulatory action are growing louder.

Yet this is not completely unprecedented. When ITU first released “Trends in Telecommunication Reform” 25 years ago, we were in the middle of the Internet and mobile revolutions. What regulators wanted more than anything was to share and understand what others were doing.

Two years later, in 2000, we held the very first Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) – with regulatory strategies to boost connectivity topping the agenda, just like now.

I will always remember the message of solidarity sent by our first GSR chair, the late Cuthbert Moshe Lekaukau (who also led the Botswana Telecommunications Authority), when he said: “The problems that we experience in regulation are similar across the world, and regulatory decisions taken in one part of the world often have implications for other parts of the world.”

Exactly 20 years later, COVID-19 gave his words a new resonance – and regulators newfound powers. Almost overnight, we saw countries innovate, opening more spectrum for mobile services, streamlining licensing, authorizations, and renewals, and taking other unprecedented measures to keep people and communities connected during the pandemic.

The global digital regulatory community accomplished so much in so little time. This was born out of necessity, and it had a huge impact on connectivity. We called it the “COVID connectivity boost.”

Digital for a sustainable future

With the pandemic now in the rear-view mirror, the time has come to apply the lessons learned. We cannot afford to wait for the next crisis to make that next jump – not with 2.7 billion people worldwide still offline; and not as the world reaches another inflection point, with the triple crisis of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss pushing us and our planet to the brink.

While experts warn about grave risks posed by artificial intelligence (AI), we also recognize the immense benefits that AI could have for humanity. For one, it can help us rescue the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for which just 12 per cent of targets are currently on track.

Digital technologies can help move us forward on all fronts, with regulators helping to build a sustainable digital future for all.

But tech will not wait. Regulators need to move faster – as the pandemic proved they can.

This will be just as true for the emerging space economy as it is for AI. The ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) instructed us to work with regulators to ensure the sustainability of the radio-frequency spectrum and associated satellite-orbit resources used by space services.

Evolving together for tomorrow

The role of the regulator has always evolved with technology. Tomorrow’s regulator must be a catalyst for responsible innovation – effective but flexible, and always putting the public good first.

This means recognizing technology as a means, not an end. We need to redefine how we understand and measure economic prosperity and progress, to capture and address the true human and environmental costs of our actions.

International, regional, and inter-governmental cooperation – the very essence of the Global Symposium for Regulators – are paramount. The collaborative, inclusive approach is the only way to adapt regulatory frameworks to the realities of our ever-changing digital world.

We will not stop until every country has harnessed the full potential of digital. The next few weeks and months promise to shape digital development well beyond the present decade.

ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) coincides with the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, in Dubai, UAE, in November and December.

Before that, on 17 September, ITU and partners will convene the SDG Digital Day in New York – an opportunity to bring data and technologies front and center at the SDG Summit and in discussions about creating a shared vision for our common digital future, including through the proposed Global Digital Compact.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the GSR Best Practice Guidelines – a milestone in ITU’s drive for universal connectivity and sustainable digital transformation.

Let us align the promise of innovation with the creation of a global digital ecosystem that is stable and predictable, as well as inclusive, secure, and sustainable.

Based on Doreen Bogdan-Martin’s remarks at the GSR-23 Opening Ceremony on 6 June.

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