Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the 2010 edition of the Global Symposium for Regulators – organized this year by ITU in collaboration with Senegal’s Regulatory Authority for Telecommunications and Posts.
I would like to express our sincerest gratitude to our hosts here in Senegal, and in particular to His Excellency President Abdoulaye Wade for your patronage and support.
Mr President, as the coordinator of the ICT component of the NEPAD project, you are right at the frontline of ICT development in Africa, representing the flagship of this great continent for bridging the digital divide and bringing the benefits of ICTs to all.
You played a key role in the two phases of the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS), in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005, and ITU was honoured to present you with the first-ever World Telecommunication and Information Society Day Award on 17 May 2006.
We are therefore in very good hands, Mr President, and I am confident that we will see great results from this Symposium.
We live in a world where ICTs are transforming the way each and every person on the planet lives, works and plays. ICTs are transforming the provision of healthcare and education; the delivery of essential services; and the way we interact with the world and with each other.
ICTs have the power to generate jobs, and drive growth, productivity and long-term economic competitiveness.
And ICTs are helping us to accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
ICTs are the greatest tool we have for achieving social and economic progress on a global scale.
But effective ICT development depends – of course – on the right policy and regulatory environment being in place, and on effective regulation.
At ITU – the leading UN agency for ICT issues – and particularly within our Development Sector, we place tremendous emphasis on the importance of establishing an enabling environment in furthering ICT development.
This makes the GSR particularly important, as a unique platform where regulators can share their experiences, exchange best practices and enter into frank dialogues.
The event was started ten years ago, at the dawn of the new Millennium, when I myself was Director of the Development Bureau. It is the only global event for the world’s regulators, and it has been incredible to see the numbers grow over the years; there were just 96 independent regulators back in the year 2000, whereas today we have 156.
I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank the ITU staff who have nurtured the event over the past decade, as well as you – the delegates – who have proven the event’s continuing usefulness and effectiveness.
This year’s theme – ‘Enabling Tomorrow’s Digital World’ – is particularly appropriate, not least because this is the first GSR to take place on the African continent.
Africa has made quite extraordinary progress in ICT development in recent years, and notably in mobile cellular telephony. By the beginning of this year, penetration had reached 44% in Africa as a whole, up from just 15% four years earlier. And even in many of the poorest countries of the region, household mobile cellular penetration in rural areas now exceeds 50%.
The challenge, of course, is to do for the Internet and broadband in Africa what we have now so successfully achieved with mobile.
Because although good progress has been made – with Internet penetration rapidly growing in recent years to reach 10% by the end of this year – we still have far to go.
This is especially true where broadband is concerned. While fixed broadband penetration is now over 25% in the world’s most developed countries, in Africa as a whole it is still below 1%.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The challenge we face – and to a large extent this is a regulatory issue – is to do for the Internet what we have already done for mobile.
Because massively increased access to the Internet – and broadband in particular – will allow us to deliver more effective healthcare. Better education. Environmental sustainability. More efficient transportation services. Smarter and more economical energy supplies. And a whole raft of new applications and services – such as mobile banking, for example.
Two things need to change, however, if the online world is to become a ubiquitous resource for all Africans.
Firstly, governments need to raise broadband to the top of the development agenda, so that rollout is accelerated and the benefits are brought to as many people as possible.
This is why ITU, in conjunction with UNESCO, launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development earlier this year.
The Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso, and we have some 50 Commissioners from the highest walks of life across the public and private sectors.
We have already been very successful in raising the issue at the highest political levels – including at the 2010 MDG Summit, which was held in New York in September.
Secondly, we need to ensure that Internet access – and especially broadband access – becomes very much more affordable than it is today.
This is where the GSR can play an important role.
Affordability is dramatically improved when competitive forces are brought to bear, and when there are clear incentives to increase capacity.
I would like to quote a brief passage concerning ‘effective regulation’ which comes from the Broadband Commission’s report to the UN Secretary-General, which was presented to him in September:
“Governments may also choose to encourage commercial infrastructure-sharing and the greater availability of frequency bands to allow operators to deliver broadband services (wireline or wireless) more effectively, and to promote the utilization of new and emerging technologies, such as smart grids. Governments also need to create the regulatory incentives to move towards next generation mobile broadband (IMT-Advanced / 4G).”
Effective regulation and sound regulatory frameworks are absolutely key for stimulating growth, increasing access to ICTs for all, extending broadband rollout, and ensuring that we speed up progress in meeting the MDGs.
For the ICT industry, good regulation delivers predictability and stability, and it reduces risk. It encourages investment in ICT infrastructure and rewards competition and innovative business models.
At the same time, it protects consumers, by delivering a transparent market place and a fair system for resolving disputes.
In closing, therefore, let me encourage you to pursue your discussions over the next three days bearing in mind the increasing complexity, growing divergence, and rapidly changing ICT environment faced by ICT regulators today.
We no longer live in the simple, analogue world of posts and telecommunications, but in the complex digital world:
- where the boundaries between infrastructure and content have converged and all but disappeared;
- where cybersecurity has become an issue for all players;
- where ICT applications and services now go far beyond the ICT sector alone;
- and where the only true constant is change.
On that rather serious note, ladies and gentlemen, let me thank you for your attention, wish you all the most productive debates and fruitful discussions.