Ladies and gentlemen,
We have seen the most extraordinary progress in ICT development in the past decade, especially in mobile communications.
I hardly need to remind anyone here at the Mobile World Congress that at the end of the 1990s there were fewer than 500 million mobile cellular subscriptions globally. Or that today, there are well over five billion.
Even in rural areas of some developing countries, we are now seeing household mobile penetration rates of over 50%.
So we at the ITU – and across the broader ICT sector – have achieved our primary aim, of bringing all the world’s people within reach of communications technology.
The challenge now is how to replicate the mobile miracle for the Internet, and especially for broadband.
I think here in the rich West, we have a tendency to forget how important the Internet has become in our daily lives – or indeed how difficult it would be for any of us to live and work without it.
We did see, however, the quick and crippling effect that switching off the Internet had on Egypt’s economy over the past few weeks.
For most of the world’s people, it is not a question of switching off the Internet, however, but a question of how to get access for the very first time.
Two thirds of the global population is still offline, and only a tiny fraction of people in the developing world have anything other than a dial-up connection.
Does this matter, when billions of people might arguably be more concerned by the daily lack of safe drinking water, rising food prices, and a chronic shortage of healthcare?
It does matter.
Because broadband is the most extraordinary enabler. And, over time, it will transform the lives of everybody.
This is especially true in the developing world. And it is especially true in countries with large rural and remote populations.
Let me give you just a few examples:
With broadband networks, health services can be delivered far more effectively, and especially to ageing or isolated populations.
With broadband networks, we can better educate the next generations of children, wherever they live.
With broadband networks, traffic networks can be streamlined, government services can be delivered more efficiently, and water and energy supplies can be properly monitored, managed and conserved.
With broadband networks, we can create the right environment for applications like mobile banking, which are already in the process of improving the lives of millions of people around the world.
With broadband networks we can help to ensure environmental sustainability, and help to manage and mitigate climate change.
And with broadband networks, progress can be rapidly accelerated towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
What can we do, ladies and gentlemen, to bring broadband to all the world’s people?
Two things need to happen.
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 last year. To encourage governments around the world 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 – and many of them are here in Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress this week.
In the first months of the Commission’s existence we successfully raised broadband as a vital issue of global concern at the highest political levels.
We did this most notably at the 2010 MDG Summit, which was held in New York last September, and I am pleased to see that the Broadband Commission was specifically mentioned in one of the General Assembly’s Resolutions.
There will be a Global Broadband Summit in Geneva in October, which will be held in conjunction with the ITU Telecom 40th anniversary edition – so please mark 24 to 27 October in your diaries if you haven’t done so already.
ITU Telecom World 2011 will bring together world leaders at the highest level, along with top executives from many of the world’s most powerful players in the ICT sector – including many of the people here in Barcelona this week, of course.
I will very much look forward to continuing the present discussions and debates when we meet again in October.
The second thing that needs to happen is that Internet access – and especially broadband access – needs to become very much more affordable than it is today.
There are quite extraordinary disparities today between the affordability of broadband access in different countries around the world.
It is a terrible irony that all around the world, the people who can least afford broadband access continue to be asked to pay the most, relative to their income.
In the most expensive 28 countries listed in ITU’s ‘Measuring the Information Society 2010’ report, a monthly broadband subscription costs over 100% of average monthly income.
Compare that to the world’s rich and developed countries, where broadband access on the whole costs from 1 to 3% of average monthly income.
There are clear grounds for optimism, however.
Firstly, generally speaking, broadband access is getting more affordable, everywhere, year-on-year. Ongoing increases in capacity, more competitive market places, and effective policy and regulatory frameworks, are doing much to drive prices down.
And secondly, of course, we have the ongoing explosion in mobile broadband, which is changing the world in front of our eyes.
In early 2011, we have over a billion mobile broadband subscriptions globally, and that number is forecast to continue to grow very rapidly indeed over the coming years.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I personally believe that this will be the decade when the Internet becomes truly pervasive and truly ubiquitous – going far beyond the two billion people who already have access today, and reaching the unconnected billions worldwide.
I believe that we will see the Internet spread everywhere this decade – not just connecting people, but connecting objects, machines, cars, households, factories and governments, in hitherto unimagined ways.
This will very largely be brought about by the rapid proliferation of advanced mobile technologies.
Here in Barcelona, this is something we can all celebrate.
We are fortunate not just to be working in a sector that is right at the heart of everything that happens in the modern world, but in a sector that has the potential to make real and lasting improvements to the lives of all the world’s people.
I challenge you, therefore, to put all this connectivity, all these amazing mobile devices and incredible mobile technologies, to good use.
What are you going to do to ensure that mobile plays a real part in improving global health? Global education? Global entrepreneurship?
What are you going to do to in terms of getting the right content onto the right devices in the hands of the right people? Wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances?
Together, I know that we can harness the incredible power of mobile to make the world a better place for all.