UK wins seat at top of UN Telecommunications Council

  • The UN agency allocates spectrum, coordinates satellite orbits and develops technical standards for mobile phones, television and satellite navigation systems
  • The election gives the UK a major role in promoting a free, open and secure internet and connecting the unconnected

The UK has been elected to the board of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN agency that powers the world’s telephone, internet and satellite networks.

The ITU coordinates the global allocation of spectrum, the radio waves used to send and receive information. It also oversees the network of satellites in orbit that enable common technologies such as mobiles, wifi, terrestrial television, GPS navigation, weather information and online maps to function.

The organization originates the technical agreements on country codes (eg +44 in the UK) that make international phone calls possible. Its radio frequency allocations allow people’s phones to roam overseas and its technical standards have allowed people to stream video to their devices. It also works to expand internet access to the 2.7 billion people around the world who are unconnected.

The UK has been an active member of the ITU, one of the oldest international organizations still in existence, for over 150 years. The council acts as the union’s governing body to guide ITU’s work on telecommunications and information and communication technology (ICT) policy issues that affect every country in the world.

The United Kingdom received the second highest number of votes in the Western European group, obtaining 151 votes out of a possible 179. Technology Minister Damian Collins and UK Foreign Secretary and Special Envoy to the ITU Lord Ahmad attended the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Bucharest last week to support the Kingdom’s election campaign -United.

Technology and Digital Economy Minister Damian Collins said:

The UK is a technological superpower and has always played a leading role in setting international standards for telecommunications and innovations that have improved the lives of billions of people around the world.

With a seat on the ITU Governing Board, we will champion technology as a solution to the world’s greatest challenges, redouble our efforts to bridge the gap between those cut off from technology and those in the fast lane digital and ensure that the Internet remains free and open.

The Minister of State for the Department of Foreign Affairs and UK Special Representative to the ITU, Lord Ahmad, said:

I am delighted that the UK has been chosen to help lead ITU’s mission in realizing everyone’s right to communicate freely and safely, wherever they are in the world.

Through our seat on the board, we will work with all states to ensure that the organization meets the needs of its members and bridges the digital divide.

Becoming a member of the ITU Council will strengthen the UK’s efforts to promote collaboration and consensus among ITU’s 193 Member States to tackle some of the biggest issues affecting the technology, telecommunications and space.

Issues include the growing demand for radio spectrum caused by the growth of new wireless technologies and ITU’s mission to “connect the world” – bridging the global digital divide and increasing prosperity in developing countries by boosting the digital inclusion and people skills.

The UK will also use its membership to ensure that the ITU focuses on keeping information and communication technology (ICT) in the hands of industry and the free market and ensuring that ‘they remain interoperable – to the benefit of UK tech companies through access to the largest possible global market.

The UK’s success comes as US candidate Doreen Bogdan-Martin was elected on Thursday as ITU’s first female secretary-general, beating Russia’s Rashid Ismailov. The result was welcomed by the UK as a significant victory for Western democracies’ efforts to block attempts by authoritarian regimes to tighten government controls on the internet.


The ITU – International Telecommunication Union – is one of the many “specialized” agencies of the United Nations.

It was established in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, making it one of the oldest international organizations still in existence today.

As its name suggests, it was first created to coordinate the telegram industry. Communication methods have clearly evolved since then, as has ITU’s mandate. ITU, quite simply, is about connecting the world.

Today, ITU is responsible for three key areas:

  • Standardization: ITU’s standardization sector creates technical standards (called recommendations) that facilitate everyday activities such as telephone calls and access to mobile networks.
  • Radio-communication: This includes things like facilitating international cooperation in the allocation of radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits. Today, billions of wireless devices use the radio spectrum and thousands of communications satellites orbit the Earth. These satellites provide services to billions of people – watching live sport, using online maps and accessing mobile broadband are all made possible through the coordination of radio spectrum and satellites at ITU.
  • Development: This means striving to improve access to telecommunications and information and communication technologies for underserved communities around the world.

About Anne Wurtsbach

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