Top international policy makers from the world’s information and communication technology (ICT) regulatory authorities and leading technology companies are meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, this week to discuss the enormous opportunities ICTs offer for accelerating global socio-economic development.
The largest annual gathering of ICT policy specialists from the public and private sectors, ITU’s Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) is the world’s pre-eminent global ICT regulatory event, attracting experts from all corners of the world.
With an emphasis on peer-to-peer debate, knowledge exchange and best practice, the event has quickly grown into the must-attend annual fixture on the calendar of the world’s ICT regulators, Chief Regulatory Officers of technology companies, government policy analysts and other key ICT stakeholders.
Egypt’s National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) is partnering with ITU to host this year’s symposium, which is officially chaired by H. E. Yasser ElKady, Egypt’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology and Chairman of NTRA Board of Directors. The event runs from May 12-14, 2016 at Sharm el-Sheikh’s Maritim Jolie Ville International Congress Centre, with a special pre-event day on 11 May focusing on digital financial inclusion, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The overall theme for 2016 is: Be Empowered, Be Included! Building Blocks for Smart Societies in a Connected World.
With more than 500 delegates from around the world expected to take part, the packed 3-day programme includes compelling discussions and debates around: Artificial intelligence, smart sensors & smart networks; The regulatory road towards the ‘Internet of Things’ and M2M communications; New digital platforms – empowering or enslaving?; Privacy, trust and cybersecurity and Strategies to encourage digital entrepreneurship.
The essential voice of industry is brought in through the Global Regulators-Industry Dialogue (GRID) component of the event, which gives both government and private sector participants the chance to debate pressing challenges, such as how to ensure infrastructure roll-out meets demand for fixed and mobile broadband services.
This morning’s opening ceremony welcomed a number of distinguished guests including Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General; GSR Chairman Minister Yasser ElKady; Mustafa Abdul El-Wahed, Acting Executive President, NTRA; and Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), which organizes the symposium every year.
Addressing delegates at the ceremony, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao noted that GSR-16 is the first major regulatory event to be held since the global community agreed the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals in New York last September. “ICTs are the foundation upon which economic and social development can grow,” said Mr Zhao. “ICTs have incredible potential to improve development outcomes in both the developing and the developed world. All three pillars of sustainable development – economic development, social inclusion and environmental protection – need ICTs as key catalysts, and ICTs will be absolutely crucial for achieving the SDGs.”
Minister ElKady emphasized his country’s long-standing commitment to ICTs as a driver of development. “In Egypt we recognize the power of ICTs in achieving economic and social sustainable development, in transforming our citizen’s lives for good and in creating more connected global societies by expanding access to knowledge, financial services and healthcare, creating new business opportunities, and providing more consumer choice through new policies and regulations.” Minister ElKady further stressed the importance of international collaboration within the ICT community to reach this ambitious goal and benefit the global societies.
In his opening address, Mustafa Abdul El-Wahed reinforced this message, telling assembled delegates that ICT services are an increasingly vital part of Egypt’s economy. “Due to the deep impact ICT has over the national economy and social life, the importance and indispensability of the telecommunications sector in Egypt has grown vividly. This is especially true during the past two decades, where one can see how telecommunications services have been contributing substantially to value added services, employment, and diversification of the Egyptian economy, not to mention the vibrant potential of the ICT sector and its role in providing enabling conditions that reinforce the development of social life.”
Earlier today, Mr Zhao and Minister ElKady signed an important new project agreement on Smart Water Management. The pilot project will use ICTs to replace conventional irrigation systems by developing a model to help optimize the management of local groundwater and expand agricultural land. Project experts will also provide guidance to policy makers regarding the management of water resources in south-west Egypt.
The symposium’s opening Leadership Debate, ‘Beyond 2020: Challenges, opportunities, scenarios’ featured top-name speakers including Minister ElKady; Kathleen Riviere-Smith, CEO of the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority of the Bahamas; Ibrahim Sarhan, Chairman and Managing Director of e-finance, Egypt; Lin Mombo, Chairman of the GSR-15 symposium; Tamer Abdel Aziz Shehata Gadalla, CEO, Telecom Egypt; and Kalpak Gude, VP, Legal & Regulatory, OneWeb. The debate was moderated by BDT Director Brahima Sanou.
“The world is changing. Everything is inter-related,” said Mr Sanou. “Now more than ever, we all need to come together for an inclusive dialogue across all sectors and develop innovative solutions to leverage new opportunities. We need to define the framework for collaborative policy and regulation to benefit from the opportunities the digital economy can bring to all people around the world. And ensuring digital financial inclusion is of the highest importance in today’s digital world.”
The GSR-16 Pre-event Programme on 11 May featured a Global Dialogue on Digital Financial Inclusion organized by ITU in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), the Government of Egypt and other partners.The event centred on driving a political dialogue between telecoms and financial services regulators from around the world on digital financial services (DFS) for financial inclusion.
Complementing technical discussions around the regulatory programme within the ITU Focus Group on Digital Financial Services, regulators from around the world shared their global experiences to identify a regulatory checklist based on international best practice. Attendees debated key findings on some of the most important issues faced by policy makers and regulators in accelerating the spread of mobile financial services, while ensuring that the market develops competitively rather than becoming beholden to a very small number of dominant players.
The pre-event day on 11 May also saw a meeting of private sector Chief Regulatory Officers from the ICT industry, designed to facilitate discussion and information sharing among telecommunication service and technology companies, and frame debate during the symposium.
ITU also hosted a special meeting of Regulatory Associations, where delegates had the opportunity to discuss, share information network with regulatory colleagues from different national agencies to promote closer, more effective cooperation between Regulatory Associations around the world.
GSR-16 continues until Saturday 14 May, culminating in a series of regulatory Best Practice Guidelines. Outputs from the meeting will also be incorporated into ITU’s annual regulatory report, Trends in Telecommunication Reform.