Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank you very much for this opportunity to participate in this afternoon’s Ministerial Briefing.
One of the questions we were asked ahead of this briefing, as panellists, was ‘where we envisioned our country, in terms of ICT development ten years from now?’
As Secretary-General of ITU, this is an absolutely vital question, not just for any individual country, but every country in the world.
And in this region – as in every region – the answer to the question must lie in the accelerated development of broadband networks and infrastructure, and in the applications and services which are made available over them.
The first decade of the new Millennium saw the most extraordinary development of mobile cellular telephony. It brought ICTs into the hands of billions of people around the world, and achieved our primary aim of bringing all the world’s people within reach of communications technology – along with all the social and economic benefits that ICTs deliver.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The challenge we now face is to do for the Internet – and especially for broadband – what we have already done for mobile.
It is no exaggeration to say that broadband represents perhaps the greatest opportunity we have ever known for global social and economic progress.
Because massively increased broadband access allows the delivery of 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 which are only just beginning to take-off – such as mobile banking, for example.
While tremendous progress has been made – with Internet penetration and both fixed broadband subscriptions and mobile broadband subscribers growing very rapidly here in the Caribbean – we must now redouble our efforts if we are to get whole populations online.
Two things need to change, if the online world is to become a ubiquitous resource across the region.
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 – to encourage governments to implement national broadband plans and increase access to broadband applications and services.
The Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso. We also have over 50 Commissioners from the highest walks of life across the public and private sectors.
We have already been very successful in raising broadband as a vital issue of global concern at the highest political levels – including at the 2010 MDG Summit, which was held in New York in September.
And we are planning a Global Broadband Summit to be held in Geneva towards the end of next year, in conjunction with ITU Telecom World’s 40th anniversary edition.
Secondly, we need to ensure that Internet access – and especially broadband access – becomes very much more affordable than it is today.
This depends primarily on effective policy and regulatory frameworks being in place. And we had many interesting discussions on this subject just last week at the Global Symposium for Regulators, which was held in Dakar, Senegal.
It is no surprise to discover that broadband affordability is dramatically improved when competitive forces are brought to bear, and when there are clear incentives to increase capacity.
Here in the Caribbean, we are starting to see remarkable growth in broadband networks and access, with increased willingness from governments to mandate competition; increased willingness from local and regional businesses to invest in infrastructure; and a growing sense from consumers across the region that Internet access – fast, always-on Internet access – is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ but has become essential in the modern era.
I find it personally fascinating that once people have access to ICTs, they don’t give it up, even when their social or economic situation changes.
Put simply, people today want to stay connected, and they work hard to make sure they stay connected.
This really highlights the critical role of ICTs globally today.
So when we are asked to look forward ten years, to the end of the second decade of this new Millennium, I would ask us to dream big.
Let’s dream big for this vibrant and exciting region.
And let’s see what we can do to create a future where everyone in the Caribbean – and around the world – has fast, affordable access to broadband networks.