Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin with some good news.
According to ITU figures, there are now well over five billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, and more than two billion Internet users. Over 90% of the global population is covered by a mobile phone network, and even in rural areas of some developing countries, more than half of all households have mobile services.
This is an incredible achievement, and we should all be proud to see such extraordinary progress in spreading the benefits of ICTs as widely as possible.
I’m also very pleased to see that the cost of many ICT services is falling fast, and bringing them within reach of many more millions of newcomers every year.
ITU’s latest findings show that, around the world, consumers and businesses are paying an average of 18% less for entry-level ICT services than they were just two years ago, and 50% less for high-speed Internet connections.
Despite this good news, we still need to work hard to ensure ‘Digital Inclusion for All’. This is especially true for people with special needs such as persons with disabilities – of whom there are now estimated to be more than one billion – as well as ageing populations and marginalized women and girls
Among the data we collect at ITU is what we call an “ICT Price Basket” – and this reveals the huge gaps that still exist between the haves and the have-nots.
Indeed, the bitter truth is that ICT services remain much more affordable in the rich world than in the developing world. Broadband Internet access is perhaps the best and most important example of this.
In the 31 countries at the top of the list – those where broadband is most affordable – a fixed broadband subscription costs less than 1% of average monthly income.
But for people who live in the 32 countries where broadband is least affordable – most of them UN-designated Least Developed Countries – a fixed broadband subscription costs over half of average monthly income.
Is affordable broadband really so important, when there are so many other pressing issues in the developing world?
Yes, it most certainly is!
Because access to high-quality Internet connections and accessible ICTs designed for people with special needs have become an essential tool in the fight against poverty and the promotion of economic empowerment.
Ladies and gentlemen,
If we are to take digital inclusion seriously, we need to repeat the ‘mobile miracle’ and spread broadband to all communities, everywhere – ensuring that it is accessible for all to use, from persons with disabilities to illiterate women and girls.
Broadband needs to reach everyone, in all nations, because it is absolutely key to furthering social and economic development in the 21st century, and to achieving the Millennium Development Goals – especially those related to women’s and children’s development.
It is also fundamental to the WSIS target of connecting all schools by 2015, and the accessible ICT provisions of Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
But with five billion people offline, and accessible ICTs still not available to all, we still have a long way to go.
This is why ITU launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development last year, with UNESCO.
At the Commission’s third meeting in Paris, two weeks ago, we launched a major new report entitled ‘Broadband: a Platform for Progress’.
The report lists more than a hundred studies showing the positive economic and social effects of broadband, and it examines how these networks could be expanded and the positive services they can deliver.
This includes services such as those which further digital inclusion by allowing people with disabilities to have greater contact with the world at large, and to benefit from an inclusive education, in line with the UN CRPD, and to obtain the job skills necessary for full employment, for example.
We are also very much aware of the need for a multilingual Internet – so that people can share their ideas and creativity around the globe, and stay in touch with people who speak the same language.
I am personally very positive and optimistic that we will be able to create a world where all citizens have access to the wealth of information and knowledge that is available online.
The reason for this is that as a species we are incredibly creative – as I often say, the most precious resource we have, and the most sustainable, is human brainpower.
And we are already seeing new and innovative ways of bringing broadband to the world’s underserved populations coming into play.
This includes satellite projects that aim to deliver access to the next three billion users, pre-paid mobile broadband subscriptions that are already rapidly driving down the costs of broadband across Africa and Asia, and a growing number of mobile applications for persons with disabilities.
We should also not forget the advent of cloud computing, which promises to allow currently expensive assistive technologies, like screen readers for example, to be more cost effectively disseminated to blind users.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We need to ensure that ICT remains at the top of the development agenda of every country. And in order to achieve that, we need to join forces and continue to work together in all our efforts.
ITU’s mandate is to ‘connect the world’. Together, with you, we will continue to work hard to ensure that there is digital inclusion for all.