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ITU commits to bringing 1.5 billion online by 2020

The United Nations agency tasked with allocating global telecommunications radio spectrum and satellite orbits has reached an agreement with member countries to bring another 1.5 billion people online by 2020.

The United Nations' International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has committed to its plan of bringing a further 1.5 billion people online by 2020, as part of its 2014 Plenipotentiary Conference Connect 2020 Agenda resolution.

The 2014 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014, which wraps up today in Busan, South Korea, after more than two weeks of multilateral discussions, saw member countries unanimously adopt the organisation's global agenda to "shape the future of the ICT sector".

The ITU is a specialised United Nations agency, with 193 member countries. It is tasked with allocating global radio spectrum and satellite orbits, developing the technical standards to ensure that networks and technologies interconnect, and improving access to IT in underserved communities worldwide.

The so-called "Connect 2020 Agenda for Global Telecommunication/ICT Development" sets out the shared vision, goals, and targets that member states have committed to achieve by 2020 in collaboration with all stakeholders across the information technology ecosystem.

The ITU plans to contribute to the Connect 2020 Agenda through its 2016-19 Strategic Plan, which was also adopted at the conference.

Connect 2020 outlined four pillars that would help it realise its goals — growth, inclusiveness, sustainability, and innovation and partnership — with the agenda aiming to ensure that telecommunications and IT act as key enablers of the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

All 171 ITU member states present at the PP-14 conference, Australia included, universally endorsed the Connect 2020 Agenda, with opening policy statements from more than 100 countries further emphasising national commitments.

The first agreed upon goal in the agenda is growth, with the commitment to bring an additional 1.5 billion users online by 2020. It has a particular focus on improved telecommunications infrastructure and increased access, use, and affordability of IT.

According to the ITU, there are still an estimated 4 billion people in the world who are not connected to the internet, according to the ITU.

The ITU hopes to see 55 percent of households with access to the internet by 2020 worldwide, with 60 percent of individuals using the internet by 2020, and telecommunication and IT 40 percent more affordable by 2020.

The other goals: Inclusive, to bridge the digital divide and provide broadband for all; sustainability, the management of challenges resulting from telecommunication and IT development; and innovation and partnership, to lead, improve, and adapt to the changing telecommunication/IT environment, were also agreed upon.

"Connect 2020 agenda is both a commitment of all ITU member states and a call to all stakeholders to work together to ensure that ICTs enable and accelerate growth and development," said ITU secretary-general Dr Hamadoun I Touré. "ITU will contribute to these goals through our new Strategic Plan. We are looking forward to working with everyone to make sure that these targets are achieved and the benefits of ICTs reach everyone on the planet.

"With the adoption of its 2016-19 Strategic Plan and Budget at PP-14, ITU is set to play its part in contributing to the Connect 2020 Agenda. The rollout of the Connect 2020 Agenda will now gather pace across the world, laying the groundwork for full mobilisation of the global ICT sector, concentrated on implementation of specific and measurable targets towards the 2020 horizon," he said.

Australia's Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull, who attended the event, said that the outcomes of the conference put all the member countries in "good standing to achieve these goals".

Turnbull also lauded the ITU's move to revamp global aircraft-tracking technology following the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in March, and the use of IT and telecommunications technology to help fight the spread of the Ebola virus.

"We have already agreed to a new resolution that takes an important step to improve civil aviation safety. I believe my counterpart from Malaysia raised the question why flight tracking still makes use of technology developed in the 1940s and 1950s," he said. "By bringing this issue to next year's WRC, you are bringing the technology into the 21st century. This achievement cannot be understated, and is an outcome that all member states should be proud of.

"The conference's resolution to make use of ICT to support efforts to combat Ebola is a timely and important initiative. Our thoughts, prayers, and sympathies are with the victims of this awful disease, and with their families. I commend the ITU for its important contribution," he said.

On November 6, the ITU and the Internet Society announced that they had signed an agreement to jointly battle spam, which still accounts for 80 percent of email traffic worldwide.

The collaboration sees both organisations identify ways to build "long-term capacity" for resolving the spam problem in developing countries, including joint cooperative activities to provide the increasing need for information on how to do so.