ITU Asia-Pacific formulates regional digital priorities ahead of World Telecommunication Development Conference 2021

ITU

The second in the series of six preparatory meetings for the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21) took place on 9 and 10 March 2021. Held virtually, the Regional Preparatory Meeting (RPM) for Asia and the Pacific gathered 158 delegates from 33 countries to ensure regional coordination ahead of WTDC-21, set to be hosted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 8-19 November 2021.

WTDC-21 is expected to develop innovative approaches and new models of collaboration for connectivity and digital solutions in this final Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015. 
“This is a good opportunity to consolidate and express regional priorities as Asia-Pacific, which will contribute to the discussion at the WTDC-21,” noted Masanori Kondo, Secretary General of the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT).
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau said: “I believe the next WTDC has the potential to be hailed as a landmark conference in rewriting the global connectivity agenda, and our enhanced preparatory process has been developed to support this ambitious vision. By bringing together Member States, the private sector, financial institutions, such as regional development banks, and key civil society organizations, WTDC-21 offers us a unique opportunity to harness a swelling tide of political will around connectivity and to build long-lasting partnerships that advance our digital transformation agenda.”
Proposed regional priorities
WTDC-21 aims to forge a global plan for digital development over the next four years, providing future direction and guidance to the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D).
Participants at RPM Asia-Pacific proposed several key priorities for the years 2022-2025: 
  • Addressing the special needs of least developed countries, small island developing states including Pacific island countries and territories, and landlocked developing countries;
  • Harnessing information and communication technologies to support the digital economy and create inclusive digital societies;
  • Fostering development of infrastructure to enhance digital connectivity;
  • Enabling policy and regulatory environments;
  • Contribute to a secure and resilient information and communication technology (ICT) environment.
“I am humbled by your trust in me and grateful for a very successful RPM, which elaborated our regional priorities and emphasized the needs of developing countries, least developed countries (LDCs), small island developing states (SIDS), and landlocked developing countries (LLDCs),” said the RPM Asia-Pacific Chair, Dr Ahmad Reza Sharafat.
Preparations by Asia-Pacific countries for WTDC-21 will continue within the framework of the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT), where stakeholders will continue preparing contributions for ITU Inter-Regional Preparatory Meetings and finalizing their Asia and the Pacific Common Proposals for WTDC-21.
Launch of Digital Trends in Asia and the Pacific 2021
A report released at the regional meeting, Digital Trends in Asia and the Pacific 2021, provides an overview of trends and developments in ICT infrastructure, access and usage trends across the region, which includes 38 ITU Member States and is home to a population of 4.2 billion people.
The report finds that just over 96.1 per cent of the population is now within reach of a 3G mobile signal, and that 94.2 per cent is within reach of a long-term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband signal. Only a decade ago, some countries in the region had no 3G or 4G infrastructure in place.
Despite these developments, a significant gender gap and a rural-urban divide persist. In 2019, only 41.3 per cent of women across the region used the Internet, compared with 48.3 per cent of men, the report shows. Moreover, only 37 per cent of rural households had access to the Internet in 2019, compared with almost twice as many urban households (70.4 per cent). 

The report further finds that, despite progress made since the last World Telecommunication Development Conference in 2017, some long-standing challenges remain, and new challenges have emerged over the past three years. These have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and require concerted and focused action.

Meeting participants reported on the implementation of SDGs in the sector, as well as of the WTDC-17 Buenos Aires Action Plan, associated regional-level initiatives, and the World Summit for Information Society (WSIS) Plan of Action.
“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the ITU Regional Office has delivered technical assistance and continued the implementation of the regional initiatives to connect the unconnected,” noted Atsuko Okuda, ITU Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific region.
Generation Connect regional action plan, 2022-2025
In parallel with the regional preparatory meeting, the Generation Connect – Asia and the Pacific Youth Group presented the draft Generation Connect Asia and the Pacific Action Plan 2022-2025, which  outlines  key interests, perspectives and concerns of young people regarding the opportunities and challenges presented by digital technologies.
The group comprises 26 young people from the region, selected after a competitive selection process. 
The Generation Connect initiative promotes meaningful youth engagement and participation in the WTDC-21 process and at the Youth Summit to be held on 6-7 November 2021.
Network of Women for the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector
The meeting unveiled the Network of Women (NoW) Asia-Pacific for the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector, an initiative that aims to build a community to support female delegates, expand their network, and advocate and share experiences and knowledge with other female delegates.  
The Network of Women for WTDC-21 Asia and the Pacific aims to promote active participation of women in ITU activities, including in the tech sector in general. 
“The Government of Mongolia gives great importance to the ICT sector and digital transformation,” said Bolor-Erdene Battsengel, Chairwoman of the Communications and Information Technology Authority (CITA) of Mongolia. “We want to ensure that the benefits of digital transformation are fully recognized by citizens and public and private sectors and that they contribute to the empowerment of women in the ICT sector.”
ITU International Centre of Digital Innovation
In a discussion focused on ITU’s International Centre of Digital Innovation (I-CoDI), the Indian delegation presented a national initiative to promote digital innovation in connectivity and highlighted a series of upcoming webinars on innovative applications and connectivity options.
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