Open consultations on enhanced cooperation on international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet

Opening Remarks by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning and welcome to today’s consultations which I have the pleasure of convening on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General. Let me also extend warm greetings to the many stakeholders who are not in the room with us but who are following the conversation remotely over the web.

The subject of these consultations is the process towards enhanced cooperation on international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet. As you may recall, these consultations were requested by the Economic and Social Council in resolution 2010/2 of 19 July with a view to, and I quote, “assisting the process towards enhanced cooperation in order to enable Governments on an equal footing to carry out their roles and responsibilities in respect of international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet, but not of the day-to-day technical and operational matters that do not impact upon those issues.”

What is the process of enhanced cooperation and what does it mean to move towards it? There is no single point of view. We are here to shed some light on this question. I imagine there will be many different points of view presented over the course of the day just as there have been in response to my call for written comments from all Member States and all other stakeholders.

Cooperation on international public policy issues related to the Internet, among all stakeholders within their respective roles and responsibilities, is increasingly important. Let us reflect carefully on how to enhance cooperation to strengthen the benefits and reduce risks inherent in this complex technological ecosystem.

The Tunis Agenda states that “the international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations”. Moreover, the process towards enhanced cooperation should involve all stakeholders in their respective roles and proceed as quickly as possible consistent with legal process and responsive to innovation. This formulation provides general direction but more specific guidance would be helpful.

What one can say with relative confidence is that enhanced cooperation is not a theme for general discussion. It is an objective. It is in particular an objective to be pursued when existing mechanisms do not adequately address important Information Society issues as highlighted in the Tunis Agenda.

What are these issues? At various times, stakeholders have mentioned management of critical Internet resources, measures to enhance Internet access, Internet interconnection charges, privacy and personal data protection, freedom of information and capacity development in specific sectors such as e-health and e-learning, among others.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Five years after the World Summit on the Information Society, there is some urgency to these matters. As we all know, Internet users now number over 2 billion, and it is estimated that another 1 billion will be online by 2015 – close to half of the world’s population. Some 90 percent of the world’s population is covered by a mobile cellular signal with an estimated 5.3 billion mobile subscriptions globally and mobile broadband on the rise. All countries are deeply involved and, sooner or later, the Internet will affect everyone’s life.

And because the Internet as a global facility concerns us all, international cooperation in public policy related to the Internet is a necessity. We have seen what can happen when imbalances arise and countries lack the capacity to manage risks and respond to crisis. It is precisely because considerable progress has been made in access to information and communications technologies that an additional effort is needed to ensure a reliable, secure and dynamic Internet for the future.

Information and communications technologies are a critical enabler of development and a catalyst for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. The Internet can be a powerful engine of economic growth and source of opportunity for all. Let us reflect carefully on how to enhance cooperation in order to reduce risks inherent in this complex technological ecosystem.

The Tunis Agenda assigns intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues. In your comments, I would therefore also encourage you to tell us in what ways the UN can assist.

I would now like to begin the consultations by inviting two groups of countries to speak: the European Union and the G-77 and China. They will be followed by the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council, which will present a summary of the views of civil society, and then the International Chamber of Commerce, which will do the same for the private sector.

These group presentations will be followed by contributions from individual countries and organizations in the order that requests for speaking slots were received. If time remains and others who have not spoken would like to take the floor, they may do so. Towards the end of the day, there will be an opportunity to exchange views and follow up on comments made by other speakers in an open discussion of about an hour’s duration.

Later I will report back to the Secretary-General. He will then convey the outcome of these consultations, also taking into consideration written contributions received from accredited entities through 31 December 2010, to the General Assembly through the Economic and Social Council next year.

I now call on Belgium on behalf of the European Union.