It is a great pleasure to be here with you in Beirut today for the opening of the 11th Arab Telecom and Internet Forum 2012.
This event is particularly timely, coming as it does on the first anniversary of last year’s events across the region, in which information and communication technologies – ICTs – played a key role.
If we had previously had any doubt about the importance of ICTs in enabling people to communicate – and to pursue their own personal, social and political ambitions – then those doubts would clearly have been dispelled by the dramatic events here in the Arab region and elsewhere last year.
ICTs play an ever-increasing role in the lives of us all, and now underpin every aspect of our daily lives – with close to six billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide and more than 2.3 billion people online.
Here in this region we have seen the most extraordinary and rapid progress in terms of ICT uptake during the past decade.
Mobile cellular penetration across the Arab region grew from 3.2% at the beginning of 2001 to almost 90% ten years later.
Internet penetration grew from just 1.2% to over 24% during the same period.
This tremendous performance is allowing the rapid spread of new and beneficial applications across the region – including e-health, e-education and e-government, among others.
It is also gratifying to see other examples of the benefits of technology here in the region too – such as ‘mada’, the Qatar Assistive Technology Centre, which is empowering and enabling people with disabilities through the greater use of ICTs.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Over the past decade we have also seen ICT markets opening up across the region, and the creation of many independent regulators – including of course the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority here in Lebanon, which was set up in 2002, and which was the host of ITU’s Global Symposium for Regulators in 2009.
It is important to achieve some degree of regulatory harmonization across the ICT sector in the region – as this will deliver a level playing field, as well as vital economies of scale across services and applications, bringing down costs for end-users.
Good, harmonized regulation delivers not only predictability and stability, but it also reduces risk. It encourages investment in infrastructure and rewards competition and innovative business models – and it clearly makes sense a region which already has a strong, shared cultural heritage, enabling the proliferation of local language content. It also protects consumers, by delivering a transparent market place and a fair system for resolving disputes.
Most importantly, good regulation opens up access to services by improving affordability – think about high roaming charges, for example, or making broadband more affordable.
Many important and relevant topics – including cybersecurity, innovation and digital content – will be on the table at the ITU Connect Arab States Summit, which takes place in Doha in just five weeks time.
The ITU Connect Arab States Summit follows on from the highly successful ITU Connect Africa Summit in 2007, and the ITU Connect CIS Summit in 2009.
These Connect Summits are immensely important. Because although we now live in a world of almost ubiquitous connectivity, we also live in a world where there are still huge disparities – between rich and poor, between developed and developing countries, and between individual countries within different regions.
With the ITU Connect Arab Summit we will be raising awareness of the vital role that ICTs play in sustainable socio-economic development.
We will focus on identifying projects of regional magnitude which can have a major impact on ICT development within this region, and on identifying and mobilizing the resources – usually through public-private partnerships – to make them happen.
To give you just one significant example of how successful this approach can be, we raised some US$ 55 billion in ICT development pledges over a seven year period at the ITU Connect Africa Summit – and in the four years since then we have seen infrastructure investment in Africa continuing to accelerate.
As a result, we confidently expect the final total investment in ICT infrastructure in Africa to exceed US$ 70 billion – demonstrating the true power of partnership and business-friendly initiatives which serve real people in developing countries.
I look forward to seeing similar success stories from this year’s ITU Connect Arab Summit.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This year will also see three other highly significant ITU events taking place in this region: ITU Telecom World 2012; The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly, WTSA-12; and the World Conference on International Communications, WCIT-12.
ITU Telecom World 2012 will be taking place in Dubai from 14 to 18 October, in partnership with the government of the United Arab Emirates.
This year we are offering more opportunities than ever before, with the ITU Telecom event partnering with GITEX, the leading ICT event for the region, allowing us to benefit from the combination of ITU’s expertise and the GITEX audience.
The event will bring together a unique audience of C-level industry executives, heads of state and government and international organizations, minsters, policy makers and regulators, thought leaders, young and digital visionaries, and academia.
Critical conversations will take place through all the different parts of the event, from the high-level segment to the ministerial round tables, forum sessions, technical symposium, interactive workshops and OpenSpace activities.
I look forward to seeing you there!
Just over a month after ITU Telecom, from 20 to 29 November, the WTSA-12 event will be taking place – also in Dubai. It will be preceded by a one-day Global Standardization Symposium on 19 November.
The WTSA maintains ITU-T as the most effective venue for international standardization of ICTs; identifies new work areas and innovative technologies for standardization; decides on any issues not resolved in study groups; reviews relations with other bodies to avoid duplication and overlap of work; and aims to increase participation in ITU’s standardization work – especially from developing countries.
WCIT-12 will be held back-to-back with WTSA-12, from 2 to 14 December. It will be the first event of its kind since the conference in Melbourne in 1988 which produced the current International Telecommunication Regulations, the ITRs.
WCIT-12 is being held at the request of membership to look at ways to revise the current ITRs, which opened the door for the telecoms revolution of the 1990s – and notably privatization, liberalization, and new technologies such as mobile and the Internet.
It is now time to take the next step, and to open the door for the broadband revolution of the next decade, so that all the world’s people can gain access to voice, video and data.
We need updated ITRs – with light regulation being the key – to help us avoid the collapse of the ICT networks which underpin all communications technologies.
WCIT-12 therefore needs to find win-win solutions which will act as a beneficial catalyst for the future development of the whole ICT sector.
It is a tremendously important conference, not just for ITU, but for the global ICT sector, and I am looking forward to the debates there which will shape the next 20 years of the most exciting business in the world – the business of ICTs.
In the meantime, I wish you every success for this important forum, here in Beirut, and I look forward to seeing the positive outcomes from the next two days’ discussions.