“Information technology can be a beacon of hope, allowing billions of people around the world to connect. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these connections… are more important than ever,” according to the UN secretary-general, António Guterres. This quote highlights the importance of information technology nowadays; an importance that was amplified in crises as well as in prosperous times. On May 17th, the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day is celebrated to remind us about the role ICTs are playing today.
This year marks the 51st World Telecommunication Day that commemorates the founding of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865. It was instituted by the Plenipotentiary Conference in Malaga-Torremolinos in 1973.
In November 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society called upon the UN General Assembly to declare May 17 as World Information Society Day to focus on the importance of ICT and the wide range of issues related to the Information Society raised by WSIS. The General Assembly adopted the resolution A/RES/60/252 in March 2006, stipulating that World Information Society Day shall be celebrated every year on May 17.
In November 2006, the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya, Turkey, decided to combine World Telecommunication Day and World Information Society Day and celebrate them both on May 17. The updated Resolution 68 invites Member States and Sector Members to celebrate the day annually by organizing appropriate national programs with a view to:
- stimulating reflection and exchanges of ideas on the theme adopted by the Council
- debating the various aspects of the theme with all partners in society
- formulating a report reflecting national discussions on the issues underlying the theme, to be fed back to ITU and the rest of its membership.
This year, this day is celebrated under the theme “Connect 2030: ICTs for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”. ITU member states will reflect on the advancements made in the field of ICTs which help in achieving the transition to smart and sustainable development. Discussions will revolve around specific ICT-enabled solutions and emerging trends capable of fostering economic, environmental and social sustainability, thus contributing to the five strategic goals of the Connect 2030 Agenda: growth, inclusiveness, sustainability, innovation and partnership.
“Every year on May 17, people around the world join the ITU family to celebrate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. This year, I call on all of you to join me in advancing ITU's Connect 2030 Agenda, a shared global vision to bridge the digital divide and use the power of information and communication technology in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said ITU secretary general, Houlin Zhao, in his 2020 WTISD address.
“I invite you to show the world what new technologies like 5G and intelligent transport, the internet of things, AI and blockchain can do to improve people's lives and facilitate social and economic development. Almost half the world's population is still not using the internet, and overall growth in ICT connectivity is slowing. Time is pressing.”
“We need to coordinate and redouble our efforts to connect everyone to the global digital economy, and that for those connected, more must be done to ensure that connected life is safe and trustworthy,” he added.
Each year, a main theme is highlighted to unlock the potential that technologies hold and to emphasize the impact on our society. For instance, the themes for the past five years were, respectively: bridging the standardization gap; enabling the positive use of artificial intelligence for all; big data for big impact; ICT entrepreneurship for social impact; and telecommunications and ICTs: drivers of innovation.
This year’s WTISD event will address the importance of enhancing collaboration and cooperation among countries, the UN family and others to strengthen the role of ICTs as we embark on the ‘Decade of Action’ to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to advance the role of ICTs in the global response to COVID-19. The event is set to happen on May 18.
The evolution of the telecommunications and ICT sector is visible through the themes that this day has adopted since 1969 and what draws attention is the fact that this evolution shows how this sector is intertwined with all other industries and fields such as education, transport, meteorology, media, health, culture, development, environment, sports, gender equality and social needs.
Information technology was a silver lining amid the crisis the world is suffering from. It has been rescuing us from isolation and lack of communication throughout these difficult times. We owe our survival to the telecommunication and ICT sector and we should be aware of the impact it’s been having on our lives and reflect on its true value.