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World Telecommunications Policy Forum

What is the World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF)?

The Fourth ITU World Telecommunication Policy Forum, Lisbon, 21-24 April 2009

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a Geneva-based specialized agency of the United Nations that has been operating since 1865. Its mandate has evolved since the days of telegraph, and it now has responsibility for a range of telecommunication standards, treaty-based authority over global use of the radiofrequency spectrum, and a program to promote expansion and use of telecommunications in the developing world. It is an inter-governmental agency, with 191 member states. It also has more than 700 non-governmental sector and associate members who may participate in a limited way.

Sector members can participate in the work of the sector of which they are members (Telecom Standards, Radiocommunication or Development sectors). They are also entitled to receive restricted information, reports, etc.

Associate members can only participate in the particular study group(s) of which they are members. This category was introduced as a lower cost option for private sector firms from developing countries. More information..., see particularly the left hand navigation bar.

ISOC is a member of two sectors: the Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) and the Development Sector (ITU-D). The ITU has a wide-ranging work program in these sectors, and is governed by the outcomes of each sector’s World Conferences, and the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference that sets overall strategy and renews the treaty instrument governing the organization overall. These are usually held every four years in a rotating pattern. Sector members can participate in study groups and sector conferences, but only Member States may speak or vote at the Plenipotentiary Conference.

The World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF) was established by the 1994 Plenipotentiary Conference as a new type of meeting to provide a less formal venue for discussion than these treaty conferences. It does not meet regularly, and its outcomes are non-binding. Unlike other global ITU meetings, the WTPF is jointly organized by ITU Member States and Sector Members, and permits government and non-government members an opportunity to freely discuss and exchange views and information on new and emerging policy and regulatory matters arising from the changing telecommunication environment. It has met three times (in 1996 on Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite (GMPCS), in 1998, on Trade in Telecommunication Services, in 2001, on Internet Protocol (IP) Telephony).

In general, the WTPF has been a useful way of introducing countries to these new issues and helping them to understand what policies and regulatory approaches can help them to benefit from global developments. Although the WTPF cannot produce prescriptive regulatory outcomes or outputs with binding force, it prepares reports and, “where appropriate,” opinions for subsequent consideration domestically by member states, and at relevant ITU meetings.

At its 2006 Plenipotentiary Conference, the ITU decided to convene the fourth World Telecommunication Policy Forum in Geneva, in the first quarter of 2009, on a range of topics that were contentious during the conference. The Plenipotentiary resolution (Decision 9: Antalya, 2006) defined the subject matter of the WTPF in the following way:

The International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) are an international treaty covering the provision and operation of international telecommunication services offered to the public as well as the underlying international telecommunication transport infrastructure used to provide such services. For full text....
  • that convergence, including Internet-related public policy matters, is one of the topics of high current interest to ITU Member States and Sector Members;
  • that the continued development of convergence, next-generation networks, and Internet also has significant implications for several domains, particularly for capacity building, especially in developing countries;
  • that a study of emerging telecommunications policy and regulatory issues is also amongst the topics of high current interest to ITU Member States and Sector Members;
  • that a study of new and emerging issues concerning the International Telecommunication Regulations (as referred to in Resolution 146: Antalya, 2006) is also among the topics of high current interest to ITU Member States and Sector Members.
Preparations for WTPF 2009

The Secretary-General, who is head of the ITU, was instructed by the Plenipotentiary to organize the WTPF. To assist him, he invited an “Informal Expert Group” (IEG) to help prepare the final report of the Conference. ISOC is a member of the IEG and has actively participated to this informal group. ITU staff has prepared a series of drafts of the report, each subject to a round of comments from the IEG. The drafts are posted to the ITU web site for review by Member States and Associate Members.

The final Secretary General’s report should be published in March 2009. A more detailed agenda for the Forum is also under preparation. In addition, a one-day Information Session on “The implication of the financial crisis on the ICT sector” will be organized the day before the WTPF, which will be an opportunity for expert speakers to educate attendees about the subject matter of the Forum. The final outcome of the Forum will be the Chair’s report, based on the IEG’s opinions and the discussions occurred during the Forum.


Following is the schedule for the preparatory process outlined by the ITU:

  • 1 March 2009: Final Report of the Secretary-General and deadline for its publication.
  • 1 April 2009: Deadline for submitting written views the IEG’s opinions.
  • 20 April 2009: Meeting of the Informal Expert Group.
  • 21 April 2009: Information Session.
  • 22-24 April 2009: World Telecommunication Policy Forum 2009.

In preparation of the Secretary-General’s report, five major themes have developed, each accompanied by a short issue statement and bibliography on the ITU web site (see: Online resources and articles). These are:

  • Convergence
  • Internet-related public policy issues
  • Next-generation networks (NGN)
  • Emerging telecommunication policy and regulatory issues
  • International Telecommunication Regulations