Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to the Regional Preparatory Meeting for the Asia Pacific Region, the first in a series of preparatory meetings for next year’s World Telecommunication Development Conference.
I would like to thank Malaysia for hosting this meeting, for the welcome they have given us and for their excellent preparation towards making it a success.
Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate His Excellency Dato’ Seri Utama Dr. Rais Yatim on his recent appointment as Minister of the newly-reorganized Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture of Malaysia.
We have gathered here together to discuss and identify your needs and priorities , so as to be sure they are reflected in the WTDC outcome.
In order to establish priorities for this region it may be useful to consider its recent history in ICT development.
Asia and the Pacific region is one of the most vibrant regions in the world. In the last decade, Asia and the Pacific region has experienced continuous ICT infrastructure development and service uptake, which have led the region to become a world leader in ICTs. At the end of 2007, the region accounted for 42 per cent of the world’s mobile cellular subscriptions, 41 per cent of the world’s fixed lines, 37 per cent of the world’s Internet users, 36 per cent of the world’s fixed broadband subscribers, and 45 per cent of the world’s mobile broadband subscriptions.
In particular, in the region’s high-income economies, the diffusion of broadband has been actively encouraged through national broadband policies and plans, as is well demonstrated by several countries in Asia and the Pacific. The Australian Prime Minister’s recent announcement on their national broadband policy is a good example.
However, with its 13 Least Developed Countries and 11 Small Island Developing States, Asia and the Pacific region remains also one of the most challenging regions in the world.
In spite of impressive progress in ICT uptake, fixed and mobile broadband penetration remain low.
There is also a significant divide between the region’s high-income economies where people are living the ultimate high-speed internet experience and the low and lower-income economies where progress towards fixed broadband is slow and internet access is often limited and comes at a high cost.
If we are to address the connectivity needs of this region we need to be realistic about the challenges it is facing:
Developing countries, particularly least developed countries and small island developing states in the Asia Pacific region, share common characteristics of geography and demography in which major populations live in dispersed, rural and remote areas exposed to difficult terrains such as mountainous areas or scattered small islands. These conditions lead to a situation of limited basic communication infrastructure.
Many existing policies and regulations have become obsolete, leading to inefficient and increasingly unsustainable restrictions and barriers to development and dissemination of the benefits of ICTs.
Another challenge for the region is to ensure that the spread of connectivity goes hand in hand with human capacity building.
Of course the major challenge that is being faced by all sectors today is the financial challenge which certainly will affect our ICT development activities. In defining our future plan we should consider its impact on ICT Development. No doubt that the impact would vary significantly from one developing country to another according to such factors as geographic placement, demographic situation, and level of economic development.
The ICT development challenges of the Asia-Pacific are further complicated by the constant threat of natural disasters. This region is, unfortunately, home to over 40 per cent of the world’s natural disasters. Recent events, such as cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the earthquake in China last year served to emphasise the urgent need for disaster planning and preparedness. As we know telecommunications are critical at all phases of disaster management, ranging from satellites, communications, radar and telemetry, meteorology, and remote sensing for early warning.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
How is the ITU meeting these challenges? And what more needs to be done?
The Asia and the Pacific regional and area offices have executed various initiatives, projects and actions through close coordination with countries based on partnerships.
ITU has assisted several countries in the region in improving their ICT policy and regulatory environment through introduction of competition, separation of policy making, regulation, and operation functions, and the implementation of a universal service program and capacity building. As a result, many countries, including LDCs have made significant regulatory and policy changes in recent years, including the introduction of competition in the telecommunication sector, the establishment of a separate regulatory authority and privatizing incumbent carriers.
ITU is playing a significant role in strengthening the knowledge base of our societies in the Region through training and information dissemination. The network of excellence that is spreading worldwide will certainly bear its fruits in the months and years to come. We certainly expect the Asia-Pacific Center of Excellence to become a major player in such global capacity-building network.
Bringing connectivity to our rural areas has also been a priority, often working with other partners, such as our project with the Universal Postal Union in Bhutan where we were able to make the advantages of digital technology available to remote areas through the network of Post Offices.
Unserved or poorly served populations deserve increased attention, which we are giving through our special initiatives. For example, our project “ICTs for Disempowered Marginalized Communities in Sri Lanka“, which benefits students, youth, women and people with disabilities and people living in rural areas.
In the aftermath of disasters in the region, ITU responded by providing emergency telecommunication equipment, for example after cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the earthquake in China in 2008. We continue to work with Member States to assist them in ratifying and implementing the Tampere Convention to facilitate the movement of emergency telecoms equipment when it is needed most and also in developing “National Emergency Telecommunications Plan” through our experts, handbooks and best practices.
We are also integrating Climate Change considerations into many of our efforts to assist Member States with best practices, tools and training.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
A full report on the implementation of ITU activities has been made available to you, but what we need to consider now is the future.
The present economic uncertainty does not favour our work in attracting investment for telecommunication development. We must strengthen our efforts to attract new resources while at the same time being creative about stretching each dollar that we have. But above all we must be sure that you, our Members, establish priorities, so that we can put our resources where they are needed most.
The global telecommunications industry has evolved dramatically since the first WTDC in 1994, creating a major challenge for ITU member states to adapt to new technologies, convergence and an increasingly competitive sector. In the converged telecommunications/ICT sector, issues of high priority for governments, regulators and operators have taken on an increasingly multidisciplinary nature.
I ask you to take this evolution into consideration in our discussions over the next few days. What does this mean for our future activities? What should be the several broad interdisciplinary themes on which BDT should focus during the coming four years? Where and how can we have the most impact? The RPM document “A fresh look at ITU-D activities” has been provided to help trigger your discussion on this important issue.
I hope that we can make the most of the next three days to find the best way forward and I look forward to hearing your ideas.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 5/5/2009