Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here to welcome you to the Regional Preparatory Meeting for the Americas Region, the third in a series of preparatory meetings for next year’s World Telecommunication Development Conference.
I would like to thank our hosts for Colombia’s impressive contribution to the preparation of this meeting, and for the warm welcome we have received here in Santa Marta. I believe we all remember what happened in 1975 in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, when archeologist Julio César Sepúlveda discovered an unknown city, founded around year 700 of our era, just 25 miles away from Santa Marta: an amazing discovery, which describes the geographic complexity of Colombia and the richness of its traditions and its culture.
I believe that Santa Marta is not only one of America’s oldest cities, but that it is also the birth place of several famous footballers. Between tradition and modernity, and with such a winning spirit, I am sure that this beautiful setting, between the mountains and the sea, will provide inspiration for our discussions.
We are here to discuss and identify the ICT needs and priorities of the Americas region, so as to be sure they are reflected in the outcome of the WTDC. At this moment it is me who is addressing you, but over the next days I will be listening carefully to your ideas and suggestions, as we work together towards building the best ICT future possible for this region. The WTDC is a landmark global conference where countries are represented at the highest level and decisions are taken that influence the future of ICT development. While many of the ICT development challenges that we face are global in nature, there are also many that are particular to specific regions. That is why your input is of such importance. The outcome of the WTDC will shape the future work of the ITU and ITU-D in particular.
Today every country, no matter what its level of development, relies on ICT infrastructure and services for its economic and social development. I think we are all aware of how important it is in the present economic climate to concentrate limited resources in areas that will provide the greatest impact. That is why it is essential that you develop clear priorities over the next three days for BDT’s future work, especially on regional initiatives.
I believe this region has much to be proud of in terms of ICT development. The number of mobile cellular subscriptions in the Americas has more than doubled over the last five years, from just under 300 million in 2003 to almost 750 million in 2008. This has produced an interesting statistic whereby numerous developing Latin American and Caribbean nations have achieved higher mobile penetration levels than developed countries in the region The popularity of mobile has had an impact on home fixed line penetration, with less than half the countries in the region having a home penetration level of more than fifty percent. And in 2008 the Americas region was home to almost 400 million Internet users.
There are many promising initiatives in the region, such as the Colombian Ministry of ICT’s Compartel program which has connected more than 15’000 public institutions to the Internet, including almost 13’000 schools. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit one such programme in Santa Marta yesterday.
However, while rejoicing in the progress that has been made, we must remain vigilant to the areas that merit greater attention and to those parts of society who are not yet enjoying the benefits of ICTs. Rural areas are often overlooked, a bit like the “lost city” I mentionned in my introduction which perfectly crystallizes the gaps that still remain between urban and rural areas. More progress is needed in broadband penetration and household access. Regulatory obstacles and spectrum constraints are holding back potential benefits of convergence and mobile broadband. The region averages 44 internet users per 100 people, but this masks large differences in usage among the regions. In the United States and Canada, two out of every three people are on line, which is almost two and a half times higher than the Latin American and the Caribbean average. Furthermore, without adequate attention given to training and enhancing awareness of the benefits of ICTs, other developments will be unsustainable.
These are the challenges we need to address and we have much to learn from one another and much to do together to find the best solutions in meeting some of these challenges:
ITU is encouraging Public Private partnerships for greater impact in ICT projects in the region.
ITU is putting renewed efforts into its Human Capacity building through the ITU Academy and additional nodes for the Centres of Excellence have been created in the Americas region. Indeed the Centre of Excellence for the Americas Region has the largest number of nodes and organizes the largest number of training activities per year. It owes this success to the partnership with CITEL and other regional organizations.
On the regulatory side ITU is carrying out a large scale project on harmonization of ICT policies in the Caribbean in partnership with the European commission.
ITU has also been addressing the issue of connectivity for rural areas and also indigenous and marginalised people. We are pleased with the success of the indigenous people’s portal which has now been transferred to the Indigenous ICT Task force for them to manage.
Training has been provided on spectrum management and ITU is expanding its work on harmonization of the use of spectrum management software to the Americas region.
ITU’s activities on transition from analogue to digital broadcasting have been very successful in other regions of the world and could well be expanded to the Americas.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you know this is the third in the series of RPMs that we are organizing in preparation for WTDC’10. The first two RPMs in Asia Pacific and Africa generally endorsed TDAG’s idea to consolidate and restructure the programmes, activities and initiatives carried out by the ITU-D. The main difference between the outcomes of both meetings was their suggested approach to the assistance provided to Least Developing Countries (LDCs) and Small Islands Developing States (SIDS). While the RPM in Asia Pacific favoured the idea of a specific Regional Initiative, the Africa region preferred to keep the existing programme. It is my belief that in order for LDCs and SIDs to benefit from the advantages of both programmes and regional initiatives and therefore attract resources from both the regular budget and extra budgetary funds, it is critical that the ITU-D finds new and creative ways to address the needs of this group of countries which have always been, and will continue to be, on the top of our development agenda. To this end a new global initiative should be embraced to implement a well managed set of ICT activities and projects for these countries. The idea is to allocate a sizeable regular budget and boost it with extra-budgetary funding in order to achieve visible, tangible and measurable ICT development for LDCs and SIDS.
I do not want to take too much of your time with ongoing and past activities. In any case a full report on the implementation of ITU activities has been made available to you. While it is important to look at what has been achieved, it is even more important to look forward and ask where we want to be in 5 years time.
Today’s economic uncertainty does not favour our work in attracting investment for telecommunication development. We need to balance national ICT development needs with the need of investors to feel confident of good returns. ITU is committed to working with you to attract new resources but 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.
Muchas gracias por su atencion.
Santa Marta, Colombia 9/9/2009