Preparations for the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21) kicked off with the Regional Preparatory Meeting (RPM) for Europe, held virtually from 18 to 19 January 2021.
The first in the series of regional preparatory meetings which will be held in all six ITU regions, RPM Europe gathered more than 150 delegates from over 30 countries to progress their preparations for WTDC-21, which will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 8-19 November 2021.
A key output of RPM-Europe are proposals for regional priorities for digital development in Europe to be discussed and considered at WTDC-21.
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).
“Digital infrastructure development is a crucial precondition for the services to reach the end users, thus placing meaningful connectivity at the center of sustainable development,” said Petr Očko, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic and the Chairman of RPM Europe. “In particular, in times of COVID-19, the digital branch has a lot of potential to support our citizens in overcoming the current uneasy situation in Europe and beyond. Therefore, strengthened collaboration on digital development to reinforce resilience will lead to a better, improved world in the future,” he added.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau said: “I would like to thank the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic for generously working with us to organize this important regional consultative meeting. I also thank all 46 countries of the European region for their support for the many activities that are advancing digital transformation both in Europe and globally, at a time when connectivity has never been more critical. In the digital sphere, Europe has much to be proud of but as we all know, the European Region is highly diverse. Challenges that still need to be met include Europe’s gender gap, and a persistent rural-urban divide. In today’s complex and challenging environment, these challenges cannot be met alone and real progress will depend on broad, multi-stakeholder digital cooperation.”
Proposed regional priorities
WTDC-21 will 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 Europe proposed the following European regional priorities for the period 2022-2025:
Digital infrastructure development: To facilitate attainment of Gigabit connectivity through resilient and synergistic infrastructure development and an enabling environment ensuring ubiquitous coverage.
Digital transformation for resilience: To facilitate the digitalization processes of services in different sectors (agriculture, health, government, education), including those of public administrations, to ensure greater resilience in responding to critical situations, including pandemic challenges.
Digital inclusion and skills development: To facilitate equitable access to ICTs and necessary digital skills to all groups of society, including persons with disabilities and specific needs, as well as women and youth, in order to take advantage of digital technologies.
Trust and confidence in the use of digital technologies: To support the deployment of resilient infrastructure and secure services allowing all citizens, especially children, to use digital technologies in their daily lives with confidence.
Digital innovation ecosystems: To foster environments that are conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship through systemic approaches based on digital technologies, aimed at closing the growing digital innovation divide in the region.
“This proposed set of focused and action-oriented regional priorities for digital development, once approved by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) and WTDC-21, will guide the work of ITU in the region by forging impactful initiatives, projects and partnerships to advance the digital agenda in Europe,” said Jaroslaw Ponder, Head of the ITU Office for Europe. “The Europe region still demonstrates heterogeneity in terms of digital transformation. Additional efforts to harmonize approaches towards bridging digital divides across the region will help accelerate digital development, leaving no one behind.”
European preparations towards WTDC-21 will continue beyond RPM Europe within the framework of the CEPT where European stakeholders will continue preparing their contributions to the Interregional Preparatory Meetings and the final European Common Proposals for WTDC-21, taking into account the Regional WSIS Stocktaking Report 2019-2020 with information on ICT projects and activities related to WSIS action lines in Europe.
In line with European regional priorities, the network of the European ITU Centres of Excellence issued a new 2021 training catalogue providing over 20 training opportunities.
Digital trends in Europe 2021
RPM Europe unveiled the first in a series of reports to be launched during the WTDC-21 regional preparatory meetings – Digital Trends in Europe 2021. This report provides an overview of trends and developments in ICT infrastructure, access and use in Europe, which includes 46 Member States and is home to a population of 686 million people.
The report is part of a series which will include reports of each ITU region, and will provide overviews of ICT trends and developments, and changes in ICT adoption, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. The series will also track the evolution of regulation and review progress and challenges in each region.
The reports are expected to be used as a reference for reviewing progress and identifying ICT development priorities in each region.
European Youth Group Declaration
RPM Europe also saw the presentation of a Youth Declaration by the Europe Youth Group. The declaration recognizes the essential role of meaningful connectivity for digital development and calls for specific actions in Europe in the areas of capacity development, policy and regulation, cybersecurity, environment and digital inclusion.
Participants at RPM Europe decided to incorporate several proposals in the new set of regional priorities for Europe which seek to ensure meaningful engagement of youth in the preparatory process towards WTDC-21.
The Europe Youth Group comprises 24 young people aged between 18 and 24, coming from all around Europe. It was established within the framework of the Generation Connect initiative to ensure meaningful youth engagement and participation in the WTDC-21 process and at the WTDC-21 Global Youth Summit to be held on 6-7 November 2021.
Regional youth declarations will be issued at each regional preparatory meeting.
Establishment of the Network of Women for the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector
Finally, RPM Europe established the Network of Women (NoW) for the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector. This initiative aims at building a community to support female delegates, expand their network, and advocate and share experiences and knowledge with other female delegates.
The Network of Women also aims at promoting the active participation of women in ITU activities and the tech sector in general.
“This is an important milestone to strengthen meaningful participation of women in the ITU-D Sector, including in the upcoming WTDC-21,” said Cristiana Flutur, co-President of the CEPT. “Even though we observe increasing participation of women in ITU and digital development related activities in general, additional efforts at the regional and global level will be of great help and we will be there to support them,” she added.