50 years of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day
May 15, 2019
Each year, World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is observed on 17 May. The date is significant, as it was on 17 May in 1865 that the International Telegraph Convention was signed to standardise telegraphy and smooth the way for more seamless communications. At the same convention, the International Telegraph Union (ITU – later the International Telecommunication Union) was formed[i].
This year is the 50th anniversary of the day being observed and, fittingly for the half-century of marking an event that was all about collaboration and overcoming barriers, this year’s theme is ‘bridging the standardisation gap’.
Standardisation enables technologies to become more widely adopted, and for products and services that bring the benefits of those technologies to wider communities, to be developed. In this way, it has facilitated global developments in communication and computing which, in turn, support business interaction, commerce and economic growth, and more connected communities.
Bridging the standardisation gap
This year, industry stakeholders are being called on to, “address the disparities in the ability of developing countries, relative to developed ones, to access, implement and influence ITU’s international standards.” Harnessing maximum inputs to the creation of standards, and broadening the dialogue in general, can in turn enhance the quality of standards and their implementation.
It is perfectly in keeping with the ITU’s aims of facilitating international connectivity, developing technical standards so that networks and technologies can interconnect, and improving access to information and communication technologies by underserved communities[ii].
Reflecting on years of change
Technology develops apace and the list of previous WTISDs makes for interesting reading. The UN’s website[iii] tracks back as far as 1996 when, as for the first ten years of its existence, it was simply ‘World Telecommunication Day’.
Twenty years ago, ecommerce was the day’s theme and the year after that, mobile communications. Much of the noughties though, was dominated by themes connected with enabling people to benefit from communications technology: ‘empowering people to cross the Digital Divide’, ‘helping all of the world’s people to communicate’, ‘creating an equitable Information Society’ among others. 2006 was the year of ‘promoting global cybersecurity’ and security was the focus once again three years later, with this time the emphasis on protecting children.
With the advent of a new decade came a flurry of community-minded themes, among them: ‘better city, better life’, ‘better life in rural communities’, ‘entrepreneurship for social impact’ and ‘improving road safety’, while the last five years has seen a clutch of technology-specific days – broadband, artificial intelligence – and the emergence of big data.
The influence of technology is felt globally, across all aspects of our lives. By encouraging greater levels of collaboration, the power of technology to enable positive change can be most effectively realised, and the voices of all communities can be heard and influence its development and the success of its adoption. Each year, World Telecommunication and Information Society Day is important in galvanising engagement and action around the globe, no more so than in this 50th anniversary year with the drive to bridge the standardisation gap.