Australia is among the leading contributors to the annual budget of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), with a current commitment of 13 contributory units – equivalent to over CHF 4.1 million (about AUD 6.2 million or US$ 4.2 million) each year.
As part of this special blog series on ITU’s top contributing Member States, ITU News interviewed RICHARD WINDEYER, Deputy Secretary heading the Communications and Media Group in Australia’s Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts (DITRDCA).
ITU NEWS: Why does Australia support ITU?
RICHARD WINDEYER: ITU plays a critical role in bridging the digital divide by improving global connectivity. ITU also establishes important rules to govern globally shared spectrum resources for the benefit of all countries.
Australia highly values and actively supports ITU’s work to bring all people worldwide within easy reach of telecommunications, and we are proud of our longstanding involvement.
In the Asia-Pacific region, ITU provides direct assistance to help least developed countries, small island developing states, and landlocked least developed countries achieve their information and communication technology (ICT) goals and connect the unconnected. Over several decades, Australia has been working hand in hand with ITU to support the Member States in Asia and the Pacific on their digital transformation journey. By funding multi-year development projects, we help ITU deliver important initiatives on sustainable ICT infrastructure, online safety, and bridging the gender digital divide.
As we all take steps to overcome the global pandemic, Australia remains more committed than ever to working collaboratively with ITU and its membership to meet the challenges ahead.
IN: How does the work of ITU relate to your strategic initiatives in the broad field of ICTs?
RW: Promoting an inclusive digital society is a top priority for Australia. All Australians should be able to afford, access and benefit from digital technology, and be well-equipped to use it confidently, safely and securely. Indigenous digital inclusion is of outmost importance. The National Agreement for Closing the Gap commits parties to providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with equal levels of digital inclusion by 2026.
Another strategic initiative for us is to support our regional partners as they adopt secure and reliable technologies. Maintaining and enhancing the capacity to respond to challenges associated with cyberspace is vital to a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. We base our collaborative work in ICTs on the principles of interoperability, innovation, transparency, diverse markets and security-by-design, as outlined in Australia’s International Cyber and Critical Tech Engagement Strategy.
IN: What specific benefits do you see from your work with ITU, and which ITU activities are most relevant to your country?
RW: We believe that our close collaboration with ITU on initiatives tailored specifically to the needs of our Pacific Island neighbours is equally beneficial to Australia and the region.
Australia-funded projects in the Pacific – specifically to develop guidelines on National Emergency Telecommunications plans and to support Computer Incident Response Team implementation plans – have contributed to regional sustainability and security. We have also committed funding to ITU Smart Island and Smart Village Initiatives in the Pacific, supporting activities that will benefit the region by providing access to key digital services, such as health and education.
Australia is also an active contributor to the development of global regulations in the ITU Radiocommunication Sector. ITU’s role in managing the allocation of global radio spectrum and satellite orbits is crucial, enabling regulatory certainty and facilitating economies of scale and the efficient use of these important finite resources. We will continue supporting international cooperation on radiocommunications and globally harmonized radiofrequency spectrum allocations.
IN: Can you provide some examples of how new and emerging ICTs are helping to drive sustainable development in your country, your region, or around the world?
RW: New and emerging ICTs play an important part in driving our country’s development.
For example, natural language processing technologies became essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. government departments’ chatbots provided individuals and businesses with accurate and timely information on Australian Government services during a particularly challenging time. And, as in many countries, the pandemic accelerated the use of high-speed broadband connectivity to support flexible work arrangements and to allow remote delivery of health and education services.
Setting, meeting, and maintaining standards around new and emerging ICTs is central for sustainable development. So is the understanding of how social factors, including gender, affect these technologies. We have partnered with ITU to implement Asia-Pacific regional initiatives on improving national standards and frameworks for critical technologies in Southeast Asia.
We are also proud supporters of ITU digital skills programmes tailored for girls, young women, and persons with disabilities. To date, these programmes have been delivered in Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Malaysia, and similar activities are being planned for other countries as well.
IN: What do you see as the main ICT industry trends in Australia?
RW: Ongoing improvements and new developments in the ICT industry continue to deliver economic and social benefits to all Australians.
The completion of the National Broadband Network and the continued rollout of new 5G mobile networks provide Australians with more options than ever to communicate with others and access online services and content. The importance of Australia’s fixed and mobile networks was highlighted during COVID-19 lockdowns, as many Australians were able to use broadband services to work or study from home, purchase essential goods, and access government and health support.
Emerging technologies that depend upon reliable high-quality connectivity, such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, and the Internet of Things, are also providing new ways for Australians to work and interact with people, businesses, education, and government services. Keeping people and infrastructure safe and secure is critical to ensure that improvements in ICT continue to deliver positive outcomes for people and the environment.
IN: Which issues should ITU address as its highest priorities in the coming years?
RW: Based on ITU’s Facts and Figures 2021 report, an estimated 39 per cent of the Asia-Pacific population is not online. ITU, in partnership with other platforms for international ICT cooperation, must continue to deliver on its mandate of connecting the unconnected.
Australia also supports efforts to base ITU’s work on results-based management principles. Connectivity initiatives that adhere to these principles – and that are results‑focused – foster sustainable and inclusive digital transformation and support effective reporting. This approach also encourages a robust assessment of outcomes and of the long-term impact of ITU’s programmes and initiatives.
IN: How should ITU evolve to meet the changing needs of the ICT industry?
RW: Overall, we believe ITU should continue promoting inclusiveness in all aspects of its work.
To ensure the continued growth of ITU’s membership, cooperation with other international bodies should remain a priority. Increased engagement with international, regional, and national organizations, including government, academia, industry, and civil society, will support ITU in achieving its goals of inclusive digital transformation – so that all can benefit from the opportunities offered by connectivity.
An open and diverse ITU, which supports gender parity and engages youth in global discussions, will be future-proof. ITU’s valuable Network of Women and Youth Strategy initiatives show positive steps to ensure the organization’s relevance and adaptability amid the ever-changing needs of the ICT industry.