Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be with you here in Baku today, for the opening of the 17th edition of BakuTel, the largest ICT event in the Caspian and Caucasus regions.
I wish you all – and the BakuTel 2011 event – every possible success.
As I stand here today, I am reminded of President Ilham Aliyev’s speech to the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva in December 2003, when he had only recently been elected to the office.
Back then, President Aliyev called on participants to use information and communication technologies to ‘convert black gold to human gold’.
Today, after eight years of converting black gold into human capital, we live in a very different place from the world we knew back in 2003.
Today there are almost six billion mobile cellular subscriptions and well over two billion people online.
We have succeeded in ‘connecting the world’, and we can be proud of our achievements in bringing ICTs within reach of vurtually all of the world’s people.
Here in Azerbaijan, the ICT sector has expanded more than five-fold over the past eight years.
ITU statistics show that by the beginning of 2011, mobile cellular teledensity in Azerbaijan had reached 99% – jumping in the space of just five years from 2.2 million to 9.1 million subscriptions.
It could be argued that this has been driven in part by Azerbaijan’s impressive GDP growth – but it could also be argued that the rapid uptake of ICTs has itself been a major driver in GDP growth here.
Indeed, I am pleased to see that the ICT sector is now the second fastest developing sector of Azerbaijan’s economy, after the energy sector, and that your ambition is to connect all 6,000 of Azerbaijan’s villages to high speed backbones, enabling people in rural areas to benefit from broadband technologies.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Just a month ago we held the Broadband Leadership Summit in Geneva, in conjunction with the 40th anniversary edition of ITU Telecom World, and it was an honour to have Azerbaijan’s Minister for Communication and Information Technologies, Professor Abbasov, with us there.
Indeed, while he was in Geneva, I heard him say that it was Azerbaijan’s ambition to see ICTs replace oil and gas as the country’s top revenue earner by the year 2025 – emphasizing Azerbaijan’s unique position as a gateway between Asia and Europe, making it an ideal location for a regional ICT hub.
This is the kind of visionary statement that we have come to expect from Professor Abbasov, and it is just one of the reasons why we are honoured to have him as one of our distinguished Commissioners on the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.
The Broadband Commission was established by ITU, in partnership with UNESCO, in May 2010.
It has already delivered important results, including a first report to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, ahead of the 2010 MDG Summit, and a second report detailing practical strategies for broadband rollout around the world.
The Commission is chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helú of Mexico. I act as co-Vice Chair, along with Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO.
Altogether we have a total of almost 60 very high-profile Commissioners from the public and private sectors – including Professor Abbasov, of course.
And although they come from many different walks of life, and many different backgrounds, they all share a common vision: to bring the benefits of broadband access within reach of all the world’s people.
Like me, they believe that broadband is the best tool we have for accelerating progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, now only just three years away.
Because broadband is truly transformational. It can deliver dramatic improvements in the delivery of education, healthcare and government services – all of which have a direct impact on the MDGs.
In the 21st century, I believe that broadband will come to be seen as basic national infrastructure, like roads, water or electricity networks.
Because broadband delivers real, sustainable, social and economic progress – in the developed world and the developing world, and in rural and remote areas as well as urban environments.
At the Broadband Leadership Summit in Geneva last month we set ambitious – but achievable – broadband targets covering policy, affordability and uptake.
Of these, the most important in my view concerns affordability – or unaffordability – which today is the biggest challenge to increased broadband uptake globally.
Because while broadband services cost less than 2% of monthly income in 49 mostly rich-word economies, it still costs more than half of monthly income in 32 developing countries.
Our goal – with the Broadband Commission – is to see broadband services cost under 5% of monthly income in every country in the world, by 2015.
With the help of enlightened regulation, increased user demand, and new technologies – such as mobile broadband – I am confident that we will succeed.
I am very pleased to note at this point that the affordability message is one which Azerbaijan has very clearly received and understood.
Because one of the most dramatic changes in the world, in terms of affordability, happened right here, in Azerbaijan, which registered one of the biggest increases in affordability in ITU’s report ‘Measuring the Information Society 2011’ which was published in September.
By 2010, access to entry-level broadband services in Azerbaijan cost just over 3% of average monthly income, bringing it well within the targets set by the Broadband Commission – and well within the reach of most households in this fine country.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Here at BakuTel-2011, participants can expect to see strong evidence of the importance of the ICT sector in Azerbaijan, and will see many examples of the expanding application of e-solutions in sectors of the national economy such as health, education, transportation, government and culture.
Let me therefore once again wish you all – and the BakuTel 2011 event itself – every possible success.