Mandela at ITU 1995 230In 1995, 77-year-old Nelson Mandela electrified ITU Geneva predicting, "in the 21st century, the capacity to communicate will almost certainly be a key human right. ... Justice and equity demand that we find ways of overcoming the division between the information rich and the information poor. If more than half the world is denied access to the means of communication, the people of developing countries will not be fully part of the modern world." Journalist and former rocket scientist Lee Goldberg tells me he will never forget that day. 

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao reminded ITU Telecom World 2018 in Durban that Mandela's dream has not been fulfilled. Four or five billion people cannot afford the Internet. The technology is ready; Reliance Jio is making a profit selling gigabytes of 4G to 250 million Indians for about US$4.

One easy way to make a difference is to join me on ITU Focus Group 2030, working towards 6G. Some of the work is about carrying holograms and sub-millisecond latency. There also is a proposal to continue to enhance mobile broadband by making sure standards include ways to deliver affordable broadband to everyone. Sign up in minutes at, lower right corner. Email me for help This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Click through for Mandela's words. They remain crucial 23 years later


Address by President Nelson Mandela at the opening of Telecom 95, the 7th World Telecommunications Forum and Exhibition

3 October 1995

Dr. Pekka Tarjanne, Secretary-General of the ITU;
Your Excellency, President Kaspar Villiger of the Swiss Federation;
Honourable Ministers;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and Gentleman.South Africa is deeply honoured by the invitation to take part in this opening ceremony of Telecom 95, the 7th World Telecommunications Conference and Exhibition.

Your seventh forum is the very first in which South Africa is participating as a full member of the International Telecommunications Union. This is testament to the steadfast support which our struggle for freedom received from the ITU. On behalf of the people of South Africa, we thank you for your solidarity, and express our joy at being so warmly accepted as a full and equal partner in the all-important world of telecommunications.

We would also like to express our gratitude at being given this unique opportunity to present our views at Telecom 95. The keen appreciation we feel is heightened by the fact this is a special moment in the world's potential for transition to a truly democratic information age.

The ITU is a body of crucial importance for South Africa and indeed the entire African continent. We need a vast expansion of our communication and information network. The ITU, as the principal driving force behind international policy; technological development; co-operation; and skills transfer is an indispensable agent in this regard.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to announce that, following discussions between officials of the ITU and the South African government, we have formally invited the Union to hold its next Africa region Telecom Exhibition and Forum in 1998 in South Africa. We would be happy and proud to host this prestigious event, and look forward to further close co-operation with the Secretary General and the Telecom Secretariat to make it a memorable occasion for the benefit of the Union and its members.

Ladies and gentlemen;

The value of information and communication is felt with particular force when, as happened in South Africa for so many years, their denial is made an instrument of repression. Such measures, however, ultimately evoke inventive and innovative ways of circumventing the restrictions.

For example, as prisoners on Robben Island, when we were deprived of newspapers we searched the refuse bins for the discarded sheets of newspapers which warders had used to wrap their sandwiches. We communicated with prisoners in other sections by gathering matchboxes thrown away by warders, concealing messages in false bottoms in the boxes and leaving them for other prisoners to find. We communicated with the outside world by smuggling messages in the clothing of released prisoners.

Not even the most repressive regime can stop human beings from finding ways of communicating and obtaining access to information.

This applies in equal measure to the information revolution sweeping the globe. No one can roll it back. It has the potential to open communications across all geographical and cultural divides.

Nevertheless, one gulf will not be easily bridged - that is the division between the information rich and the information poor. Justice and equity demand that we find ways of overcoming it. If more than half the world is denied access to the means of communication, the people of developing countries will not be fully part of the modern world. For in the 21st century, the capacity to communicate will almost certainly be a key human right.

Eliminating the distinction between information rich and information poor countries is also critical to eliminating economic and other inequalities between North and South, and to improving the quality of life of all humanity.

Converging developments in the fields of information and communications offer immense potential to make real progress in this direction. The pace at which the price of communications and information systems has fallen has also undermined the previously rigid link between a nation's wealth and its information richness. There is an unprecedented window of opportunity.

But the present reality is that the technology gap between the developed and developing nations is actually widening. Most of the world has no experience of what readily accessible communications can do for society and economy.

Given the fundamental impact of telecommunications on society and the immense historical imbalances, telecommunications issues must become part of general public debate on development policies. Telecommunications cannot be simply treated as one commercial sector of the economy, to be left to the forces of the free market.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

In South Africa, with its own severe historical imbalances between developed and disadvantaged areas, we face many of these challenging issues within our own borders. For that reason we have much to learn from the rest of the developing world. But we do also believe that the lessons of our own experience may be of value to others, and in that spirit we would like to share some of them with you.

First of all, we believe that the concept of universal service should be extended to the international plane. The obligation on governments to bring services to the rural and poorer areas of their countries should, with the globalisation of telecommunications, apply to the world at large. Developed nations should understand the necessity and the democratic right of the poorer countries to gain access to the information super-highway.

And just as every nation needs co-operation between its various sectors to find the country's best way of accessing the utilising the information highway, so too is increased international co-operation necessary. Amongst other things this should give high priority to overcoming the legacy of colonial development which left many countries linked to their neighbours via Europe rather than directly across their borders. A new programme of building high capacity links between neighbouring countries is urgently needed.

At present only the best-resourced countries can keep up with new developments. A world-wide centre for monitoring change would allow all nations to do so. The scope of what is required is beyond that of existing organisations and this might well be a role for the ITU itself.

If developing countries are to make effective use of the chance to join the super-highway, there is a need for a special effort to build the pool of human resources. A massive investment in education and skills transfer is essential if the South is to compete in the global communications marketplace. This too requires long term international co-operation.

Many developing countries face difficulties in raising capital for their existing operators. There is consequently pressure on governments to throw open their doors to international competition. This calls for great care, to avoid jeopardising local services having to compete with powerful international operators. Perhaps the most creative solution is the establishment of partnerships of operators in developing countries with international companies and consortia. Such mutually beneficial arrangements would bring profitable investment to the Northern partner strategic skills transfers and exne-way relationships.

Another how to create incentives for telecommunications operators to supply unprofitable services which tted to supporting - for example tain international developments new difficulties for many developing countries. In particular, whiltion are reducing the cost of inrce national operators to reduce order to compete, thereby diverting funds from their less economic areas.

The effects on national accounting rates ought, therefore, to be taken into account in the negotiation of these rates and t

Traditionally, revenue from international services has been shared in a way that brought a substantial transfer of funds to developing countries. African countries in the ITU have urged that this transfer should be maintained or even increased or even increased, given their higher costs.

Ladies and gentlemen;

These are some of the issues regarding the globalisation of telecommunications and the information revolution which are of concern to South Africa and many developing countries. If we cannot ensure that this global revolution creates a world-wide information society in which everyone has a stake and can play a part, then it will not have been a revolution at all.

As we head towards the 21st century, the development of a global information society based on justice, freedom and democracy must be one of our highest priorities.

To this end I would like to formally table for discussion at Telecom 95 a set of principles designed to enable the full participation of both the developed countries and developing countries in building a global information society.

We should strive towards global universal service in telephony and global universal access to the information superhighway;

-The expansion of the global information infrastructure should be based on partnership and rules of fair competition and regulation, at both national and international level;

-The information revolution should be geared toward enhancing global citizenship and global economic prosperity;

-A diversity of paths towards the achievement of national information societies should be respected;

-The evolution of policy for the development of an equitable global information society should be co-ordinated internationally to ensure the sharing of information and resources;

-The education of young people with regard to the skill needed for living in an information society should be prioritised.

Ladies and gentlemen;

In conclusion I would wish to emphasise the importance of young people to the information revolution. Many of us here today spent much of our lives without access to telecommunications or information services, and many of us will not live to see the flowering of the information age. But our children will. They are our greatest asset. And it is our responsibility to give them the skills and insight to build the information societies of the future.

The young people of the world must be empowered to participate in the building of the information age. They must become the citizens of the global information society. And we must create the best conditions for their participation.

I thank you.


The world needs a good news source on Internet and telecom policy. I hope to create one. Catch a mistake? Email me please.  Dave Burstein


Professor Noam's "Many Internets"

Until about 2010, everyone agreed the Net was a "network of networks," not a monolithic entity. There was a central authority, ICANN, keeping track of domain names, but that was a minor administrative function.
Columbia Professor Noam suggests we might be better off accepting that some nations or groups might want to organize their networks differently. It's easy to see demand for an Internet with much more effective filters against material some think harmful to children. (Any 10 year old can easily find porn today. Many do.)
Internet translation is getting better very quickly. You might want an "Internet" that translates everything into your language. Google Chrome translation isn't perfect but I was able to research most of this story on Russian language sites. With a few more years progress, I might welcome an alternate that brings me everything in English, including caching for better performance.
De facto, Internet news is already split, as hundreds of millions only get their news from Facebook. Google AMP pages, including for news, also favor selected parts of the net
Centralizing the DNS doesn't prevent censorship, as the Chinese have demonstrated. There are many Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists who want to block what they consider blasphemy and limit free speech. See . More from Noam

Russia Orders Alternate Root Internet System
It's actually practical and not necessarily a problem.The Security Council of the Russian Federation, headed by Vladimir Putin, has ordered the "government to develop an independent internet infrastructure for BRICS nations, which would continue to work in the event of global internet malfunctions ... This system would be used by countries of the BRICS bloc – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa." RT
Columbia University Professor Eli Noam and then ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé have both said such a system is perfectly practical as long as there is robust interconnection.
Actually, the battle over ICANN and domain names is essentially symbolic. Managing the DNS is a relatively insignificant task, more clerical than governing. ICANN Chair Steve Crocker pointed out they had very little to do with policy.
Some will claim this is about blocking free speech but that's rhetoric. Russia doesn't need to fiddle with the DNS for censorship, as the Chinese have demonstrated. The wonders of the Internet will continue so long as the resulting nets" are robustly connected. The ICANN and U.S. policy goal should be to help create that system for interconnection.
I expect contentions that “The Russians are taking over our Internet” and “They are splitting the Internet.” The Internet is a “Network of Networks.” It is not a monolith so what would “splitting” it mean or do?
After the WCIT, China realized that ICANN and the DNS are side issues not worth bothering about. They have been building alternate institutions including the World Internet Summit in Wuzhan and the BRICs conferences.  The Chinese have put their main work where decisions that matter are made. Wireless standards are set by 3GPP, where nothing can be approved without China's consent.
The American battle at ITU is proving to be a historic mistake.
Why does Russia want an independent Internet?
They fear that Western sanctions on Russia could cripple the Russian Net. Communications minister, Nikolay Nikiforov, worries about, "a scenario where our esteemed partners would suddenly decide to disconnect us from the internet." I think that's highly unlikely but Nikiforov points out, “Recently, Russia is being addressed in a language of unilateral sanctions: first, our credit cards are being cut off; then the European Parliament says that they’ll disconnect us from SWIFT."
It makes sense for the Russians to be prepared for such a contingency as the Cold War has been warming up on both sides. "Britain's top military chief Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach just made headlines warning Russian subs "could CRIPPLE Britain by cutting undefended undersea internet cables." Much more

ICANN Continues Excluding Russia & China From the Board
No wonder Russia wants an alternate root. Three years ago, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé promised "a seat at the table" to Chinese Premier Li. ICANN welched and this year added two more Americans.
Almost all the ICANN board is from the U.S. and close allies; only about 4 of the 18 board members are from countries on the other side of the North/South divide in Internet policy.  Claiming ICANN represents the Global Internet is inappropriate. China is 1/3rd of the Internet but has no representation on the board.
I know many of the board members. They are all basically honorable but generally share a strong opinion on North-South issues.
Larry Strickling of the U.S. government knew just what he was doing with the IANA transition. He handed over to a board with similar positions as the U.S. government.
"The system is unsustainable while it excludes half the world," I have been saying since 2012. More, including the transcript of Fadi's statements,

Sorry, Ajit Pai: Smaller Telcos Did Not Reduce Investment After NN Ruling
Pai justifies his NN choice with the claim, "The impact has been particularly serious for smaller Internet service providers." #wrong (Actually, NN has minimal effects on investment, up or down, I’m convinced. Competition, new technology, customer demand and similar are far more important.)
The two largest suppliers to “smaller ISPs” saw sales go up. Adtran's sales the most recent nine months were $540M, up from $473M the year before. 2016 was $636M, 2015 $600M. Calix the last nine months sold $372M, up from $327M. The full year 2016 was $459M, up from $407M in 2015. Clearfield, a supplier of fiber optic gear, was up 8% in sales in the smaller ISPs.
There is nothing in the data from others that suggests an alternate trend. Anyone could have found this data in a few minutes from the company quarterly reports.
The results in larger companies are ambiguous. I can "prove" capex went up or went down by selecting the right data. The four largest companies' capex - two/thirds of the total - went up from $52.7B in 2015 to $55.7B in 2016. The result remains positive after making sensible adjustments for mergers and acquisitions. That's as close to "proving" that NN led to increased spending as the facts chosen to prove the opposite.
Actually, whether capex went up or down in 2016 tells us almost nothing about the choice on neutrality. Everyone knows a single datapoint could be random or due to other causes. Much more, including the source of the errors

Elders Bearing Witness: Vint, Timbl, & Many More
Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, Steve Wozniak and more than a dozen true Internet pioneers wrote Congress to protect Neutrality. The best Congress money can buy didn't listen but I wanted to reproduce their letter.
I hope they are wrong believing "is an imminent threat to the Internet we worked so hard to create." My take is the impact will be moderate in the short run.
From the letter:
We are the pioneers and technologists who created and now operate the Internet, and some of the innovators and business people who, like many others, depend on it for our livelihood. ... The FCC’s proposed Order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology. These flaws and inaccuracies were documented in detail in a 43-page-long joint comment signed by over 200 of the most prominent Internet pioneers and engineers and submitted to the FCC on July 17, 2017.
Despite this comment, the FCC did not correct its misunderstandings, but instead premised the proposed Order on the very technical flaws the comment explained. The technically-incorrect proposed Order ... More, including the full list,