ITU

Committed to connecting the world

Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

FUTURECOM 2011 – Premium keynote Address

"The Internet as Basic Infrastructure in the 21st Century: Why Everybody Needs Access To Broadband"

12 September 2011, São Paulo, Brazil

  
 
Excellencies,
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
It is a great pleasure to be here with you in São Paulo this afternoon at Futurecom 2011, the 13th edition of what has become the largest and most important communications event in Latin America.
 
It is significant that Futurecom is held here in Brazil – because of course Brazil has made quite extraordinary progress in ICT development over the past few years. Indeed, last year saw the number of mobile cellular subscriptions here reach 200 million, giving a mobile cellular penetration of over 100% – compared to just 13% a decade earlier.
 
Progress in terms of Internet access has been equally impressive, with the percentage of Brazilians online growing more than tenfold over the decade, from just 3% at the beginning of the millennium, to over 40% today.
 
By 2016, Brazil expects to have completed the migration from analogue to digital TV. Because of the already high TV penetration rates, this should offer a very interesting opportunity to provide affordable Internet access via over-the-air digital terrestrial broadcasting.
 
The technology developed by Brazil to do this – called Ginga, which reflects the traditional Brazilian ability to marry style and skill – will provide the necessary interactive resources for a fully-complementary Internet access solution, and has already been issued as ITU Recommendations.
 
I am pleased to be able to report that ITU has been actively working in the IPTV area over the past months in Brazil, with a seminar being held on “ITU-T Recommendations on IPTV and video distribution trends in Brazil” and a workshop being held on the “Harmonization of Web and IPTV technologies”.
 
We can also expect to see further rapid increases in ICT development progress here as Brazil prepares for the organization of the Soccer World Cup in 2014, and the Olympics in 2016 – both global events which will require enormous ICT capacity within and beyond the country.
 
These global events will help accelerate the government’s objectives to fully connect Brazil and Brazilians, most notably through the Brazilian National Broadband Plan (PNBL), which is already becoming a global benchmark, and which expects to see some 120 million broadband subscriptions – two thirds of them wireless – by 2016.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
This is a great example of how Brazil is leading the way in helping to ensure that everyone – wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances – has access to the benefits of broadband.
 
Because – in the 21st century – broadband networks must be considered as basic infrastructure, just like roads, railways, water and power networks.
 
Broadband is absolutely key to furthering social and economic development, and to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In a more populous, ageing world, broadband will be vital in helping to deliver essential services such as health, education and good government.
 
It will help us address the biggest issues of our time – such as climate change and environmental sustainability – and it will revolutionize the way goods and services are created, delivered and used.
 
Already we are seeing mobile phones playing a key role in healthcare programmes in a growing number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia-Pacific and here in Latin America – where they can be used to deliver simple SMS reminders for vaccinations or anti-retroviral treatments, to grassroots information gathering on demographics and diseases, to mobile information repositories for personal health records. New apps are being developed by the thousand which will help deliver healthcare to those who cannot easily be reached by medical specialists.
 
More advanced applications, such as 3D computer tomography, will soon allow for non-invasive internal examinations and diagnosis, while advanced data mining techniques will allow rare and unusual medical conditions to be more quickly and effectively diagnosed and treated.
 
Concerning education, ICTs themselves are already acting as one of the main platforms for disseminating knowledge, and this marks perhaps the biggest shift in education since the founding of the first great ancient higher-learning institutions, which essentially depended on the model of ‘lecturer’ and ‘lectured-to’.
 
What we can expect to see, over the coming years, is an explosion of fine home-grown educational establishments right across the developing world, which will cater person-to-person for those who live close to schools and universities, and online for those who don’t.
 
It may surprise you to learn that two of the biggest universities in the world today specialize in distance learning. They are:
 
  • The Indira Gandhi National Open University in New Delhi, India, with 3.5 million students;
  • The Allama Iqbal Open University in Islamabad, Pakistan, with 1.8 million students; and
 
Sixteen of the top twenty universities in the world, ranked by number of enrolled students, are in developing countries – including Argentina and Mexico in this region, as well as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Romania, Thailand and Turkey – and each establishment has more than 300,000 students enrolled.
 
This could never have happened without ICTs and broadband, which have brought two crucial new forces to play: the death of distance, and the democratization of information and knowledge.
 
This is the true beauty of the Internet – it finally makes the world’s riches accessible to all.
 
Through various projects around the world, including ITU’s Connect a School, Connect a Community initiative, computers and the Internet are being brought for the first time to people both of school age and within the community as a whole.
 
Children who are introduced to the vast realm of knowledge the Internet offers at a young age will expect to stay connected as they grow. And better educated adults not only have more manageable-sized families, but their children have significantly improved survival rates, and better chances of an education, basic health care and stable, better-paid employment. Even simple devices like an ordinary mobile phone can have a profoundly transformational effect.
 
Distinguished guests,
 
The innovative use of ICTs will also play a crucial role in ensuring the world’s billions have affordable and equitable access to adequate food supplies, at every step of the process – from delivering the right information to farmers, to helping them improve yields and prices, to improving supply chain efficiencies, to ensuring that consumers understand nutritional needs, both for themselves and for their children.
 
Similar principles apply to smart water management and distribution, and here too, ICTs will play a vital role in the 21st century, as water resources become more scarce, and much more valuable. This applies to remote sensing, weather forecast and soil moisture level measurement, etc.
 
ICTs will play a critical role in helping create a more sustainable world in the 21st century. Through smart grids, environmental sensors, intelligent transport systems, dematerialization and digitalization of goods and services, and new ways of improving energy efficiency, we can help drive the transition to a low carbon economy, while better adapting to the effects of climate change.
 
With political will, a strong social conscience, and a profound desire to fulfil a humanist mandate, we are fully capable of making the world a better place for all – and I am absolutely confident that together, by leveraging the power of broadband, we shall do so.
 
This is why ITU, in conjunction with UNESCO, launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development last 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 have over 50 Broadband Commissioners – all top-level leaders in their field – representing governments, industry, academia and international agencies.
 
ITU, in conjunction with WHO, has also launched the Commission on Information and Accountability for Woman and Children Health, co-chaired by Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper and President of Tanzania  Jakaya Kikwete.
 
They have defined a vision for accelerating the deployment of broadband networks worldwide, with the aim of improving the delivery of services across a huge range of social and business sectors, and accelerating progress towards the MDGs.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
In closing, let me remind you that next month we at ITU will also be holding a uniquely important communications event, ITU Telecom World 2011 – and let me encourage you to come to Geneva to participate.
 
With the world ever more dependent on ICTs to address global challenges, the event will continue to benefit from a 40-year history of international reach, and the ability to convene leading players from government and industry, but it has also been strategically repositioned, in line with the changing needs of the industry as a whole.
 
There will be a strong focus on networking and knowledge-sharing, enabling delegates to connect, discuss and collaborate in finding real-life solutions to real-world issues. This will make ITU Telecom World 2011 'big' in many ways – we'll be covering big issues; engaging in big conversations, taking big decisions, hearing from big thinkers, exerting a big influence and having a big impact.
 
It will be a crucial platform for shaping the future of the ICT sector – and in today’s world that means shaping the future of every sector of the global economy.
 
Thank you!