Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure and a great honour to be with you here today in Ouagadougou for the 8th annual meeting of Fratel, the Réseau francophone de la régulation des télécommunications.
Fratel has been key to furthering ICT development in the French-speaking world, and will continue to play a vital role in the realm of la Francophonie.
This is essential, because ICTs have become an integral part of the lives of each and every one of us, in ways that we could not even have imagined just a decade ago.
ICTs can help generate jobs, and drive growth, productivity and long-term economic competitiveness. They are the most powerful tool we have for achieving social and economic progress on a global scale. And they are key in helping us to accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
Those of you who know me well, will know that I am passionate about ITU’s core mandate, to Connect the World.
And I am delighted that during my first four-year term as ITU Secretary-General, we saw so much progress in that regard – so that there are now over five billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide. Even in many of the world’s poorest countries, household mobile cellular penetration in rural areas now exceeds 50%.
This is a most extraordinary triumph, and something we should all be proud of.
Ladies and gentlemen,
During my second four-term as ITU Secretary-General, which starts next month, I want to see the same sort of progress made globally in terms of access to the Internet as we have just seen in terms of mobile telephony.
We have made tremendous progress, in that there are already some two billion people now online. But we should not forget that this leaves close to five billion people who remain unconnected to the wealth of information and opportunity offered by the Internet.
Across la Francophonie – as for other global, regional and local groupings of countries – the answer must lie in the accelerated development of broadband networks and infrastructure, and in the applications and services which are made available over them.
As this esteemed group of people here today knows better than most, this will depend on the right policy and regulatory environment being in place, and on effective regulation.
Looking to our hosts for this meeting, I was especially pleased to hear Burkina Faso’s Policy Statement at the ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference in Mexico in October, which emphasized Burkina Faso’s ongoing commitment to broadband development.
If you permit, I will quote briefly from that Policy Statement:
“Burkina Faso has based its strategy for ICT development in three key areas, which include the deployment of broadband infrastructure throughout the territory, as well as the appropriation of ICTs by different social strata and their integration into all national development strategies.”
The wide deployment of broadband infrastructure allows for the more effective provision of healthcare. For better education. For environmental sustainability. For more efficient transportation services. For smarter and more economical energy supplies. And for a whole raft of new applications and services – such as mobile banking, for example, which is already proving to be so revolutionary here in Africa, and notably in Kenya.
If the online world is to become a ubiquitous resource across la Francophonie, two things will need to change.
Firstly, all governments – and not just Burkina Faso’s – will need to raise broadband to the top of the development agenda.
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 back 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 month at the Global Symposium for Regulators, which was held in Dakar, Senegal.
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).”
I am an optimist, and there are clear grounds for optimism, since broadband access is in fact getting more affordable every year. This is being helped by an ongoing increase in capacity, itself driven by a newly competitive environment.
These are signs of the very positive times in which we live, and I am encouraged to see such widespread support for the broadband cause across the francophone countries.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me close with a few last words on the importance of regulation.
I think we all agree that 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.
Let me therefore encourage you to pursue your discussions at this meeting 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.