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Community Networks 20 May 2022

The Path to WTDC-22: Connecting the Unconnected Is Critical to Achieving Sustainable Development

Juan Peirano
By Juan PeiranoSenior Policy Advisor

Every four years, policymakers from around the world come together during the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) to collaborative on solutions to close the digital divide and drive digital transformation. Since the last conference in 2017 our world has changed. Facing a global pandemic that shows us how vital Internet connectivity is, the WTDC has become even more urgent.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic stopped many international conferences in their tracks—and the 2021 ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21) was no exception. It was scheduled to take place in Addis Abba, Ethiopia in October 2021, but it was postponed to 6-15 June 2022, this time in Kigali, Rwanda.

Now, it’s game on—with an exciting new development! Preparations for the conference are under way, with delegates from the Internet Society attending. Here are some highlights (plus that exciting new development) to bring you up to speed on WTDC-22.

A Milestone Toward Connecting the Unconnected

The conference is an opportunity to advance a collaborative development agenda, develop innovative connectivity policy approaches, forge new partnerships, and accelerate connectivity and digital solutions. The goal is to connect more people in the final Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Read our background paper for more information about the importance of the outcomes of the WTDC, and detailed information about processes that will shape the development agenda within the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Development Sector for the next four years.

The theme of the conference is “Connecting the Unconnected to Achieve Sustainable Development.” It aligns with the Internet Society’s vision that the Internet is for everyone—and with our mission to work for the Internet to be open, globally connected, secure, and trustworthy. The WTDC is a milestone in our work alongside our community and trusted partners to bring us closer to this vision.

As in most multilateral conferences, procedural duties and negotiations can take up most of the agenda, leaving less time for deep discussions on development issues. Yet, if the WTDC-22 preparations are any indication of the determination by ITU Member States to address the connectivity divide, we’re encouraged by the progress that’s already been made and how much we can accomplish when we’re together in Kigali.

It’s been a long time coming, reflecting hours of discussions, calls, and consensus building over the past few years. These included Regional Preparatory Meetings (RPMs), which were held in each of the ITU regions and fostered regional coordination and preparation. Interregional meetings (IRMs) also facilitated the sharing of regional priorities, common positions, and key issues for WTDC-22, with the goal of building consensus on common areas.

Our Pledge to Support Universal Connectivity

Now, let’s share the exciting new development! We’ve pledged to join the Partners to Connect Coalition (P2C). This multistakeholder alliance, led by the ITU and in cooperation with the UN, seeks to make sure every person has safe and affordable access to the Internet by 2030. The alliance’s focus is on improving connectivity and digital transformation, mobilizing partners to achieve universal connectivity. We’ve made a bold pledge—focused on supporting complementary connectivity solutions and capacity building to enable people to deploy Internet infrastructure—and we’re joining partners whose work is aligned to our 2025 strategic objectives.

There’s reason to celebrate this positive momentum, and all of the hours of work and progress. COVID-19 didn’t just disrupt conferences. It upended our entire world and made the goal of universal access even more urgent. We must call on governments to support new, innovative policies to connect the unconnected. Our focus during the WTDC 2022 will be on solutions: promoting policies that enable community networks, Internet exchange points, and technical communities.

Learn more about where we stand and encourage your local government and regulatory agencies to help create an enabling environment for community networks and IXPs.

Image copyright: ©Nyani Quarmyne

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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