Talk is nice, but as we all know too well, action is what really matters. For example, there have been a lot of good words spoken over the years about the importance of bridging the digital divide; from the promulgation of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals in 2000, to the declarations emanating from the two sessions of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 and 2005. However, the real effort in translating these laudatory declarations into reality has been carried out by a relatively small number of players engaged in the activity that has now come to be known as capacity building.
Many of the major players in promoting capacity building are generally well known and include the World Bank, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and the U.S.-sponsored United States Telecommunications Training Institute (USTTI). Each of these organizations is well positioned and committed to addressing a broad range of capacity-building undertakings spanning the entirety of the telecom sector. However, in the case of satellite technology, the field of dedicated participants is considerably smaller. Indeed, the leading entity active in this area is the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (ITSO), which took its current form and mandate as part of the privatization process of Intelsat, which was completed in 2001.
ITSO’s commitment to capacity building is a natural extension of the overall mission it was given to provide continuing oversight of privatized Intelsat’s adherence to certain public service obligations that were the hallmark of the organization prior to privatization. To this end, a key component of ITSO’s strategic plan, as adopted by its Assembly of Parties, is a firm commitment to contribute to the promotion of a global information and communications infrastructure. ITSO’s establishment manifested this commitment in 2010, under the leadership of ITSO Director General Jose Toscano, of a formal Capacity Building Initiative. Given that availability of satellite broadband services is fast becoming the focal point of many developing countries efforts to bridge the digital divide, ITSO’s Capacity Building Initiative has taken on increased importance since that time.
In pursuing this commitment, ITSO has developed a strong partnership arrangement not only with the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, but with a number of regional telecom organizations, including the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization (CTO), the African Telecommunications Union (ATU), the East African Communications Organization (EACO), the Comisión Técnica Regional de Telecomunicaciones (COMTELCA), the South African Development Community (SADC), the African Union Commission (AUC), Associação de Reguladores de Comunicações e Telecomunicações (ARCTEL), the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), the West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly (WATRA), and the Intersputnik International Organization of Space Communications. Recently ITSO also entered into a partnership agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for capacity-building purposes.
ITSO has sought to bring other organizations into the capacity-building fold through creative collaborative arrangements, including the American University Washington College of Law (AU/WCL). ITSO has entered into a cooperative relationship, including the creation of the Program on International Communications regulation and Policy, which has resulted in the development of both online (offered free of charge to officials from ITSO member states) and law school courses specifically relating to international communications law and policy. Additionally, ITSO has agreed with the IDB to perform a specific study on the provision of satellite broadband services in Latin America and the Caribbean, to be followed by outreach and knowledge activities that will bring industry and other stakeholders together.
Ultimately, it is efforts like this that will make the biggest difference in meaningfully reducing the digital divide and the problems it poses, and at the same time better defining a clearer role for the significant contributions that satellite technology can offer to these efforts. VS