Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be with you here at the USF Company in Islamabad today – I am delighted to visit this very important institution to further broadband development in this beautiful country.
I am delighted to be here with you, because as co-Vice-Chair of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, I spend much of my time advocating the benefits of broadband. So I know that here I am speaking to a converted audience – through your work at USF Company, you are already all dedicated to deploying broadband for the public good!
So perhaps today, allow me to begin by briefly covering the benefits of broadband, before addressing some issues and what we know about universal service and USFs, after some twenty years’ experience. Because I believe you are pioneers in your work.
Over the past twenty years, the ‘mobile miracle’ has brought the benefits of ICTs within reach of nearly everyone on the planet, and today there are well over six billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide.
But two thirds of the world’s people still have no access to the Internet, let alone broadband.
So the next crucial step must be to replicate the mobile miracle for broadband, and deliver broadband for all.
I say this, because broadband is not just about high-speed Internet connectivity and accessing more data, faster.
Broadband is a set of transformative technologies, which are fundamentally changing the way we live.
Broadband is helping deliver essential services in health, education and government. It is also helping us address some of the biggest issues of our time – including the digital economy, climate change and environmental sustainability.
Broadband will help Pakistan – and every other country on earth – keep up to date and compete in the new online world of e-commerce, Internet transactions and virtual goods.
Broadband is helping pregnant mothers to monitor their progress online, and parents to track the symptoms of sick children.
Broadband is bringing mobile banking to those without bank accounts – in their millions across the developing world.
Broadband is also helping us accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals through applications to help improve people’s lives and livelihoods in rural and agricultural areas.
The power of broadband to change our world, lift people out of poverty and help achieve the MDGs are the key messages of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, established by ITU and UNESCO in 2010.
The Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim, President of the Carlos Slim Foundation.
We have almost 60 Broadband Commissioners – all top-level leaders in their field – representing governments, industry, academia and international agencies, and they are doing great work in advocating the importance of policy leadership.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Given that we know the tangible benefits of broadband to empower people, how can we make sure that everyone gets access?
One answer is policy leadership – and I am very pleased to see that Pakistan has been a pioneer in this respect. Today, according to the most recent ITU data, there are now 112 countries worldwide with broadband policies in place – but Pakistan was one of the first, establishing its National Broadband Policy five years ago, well ahead of many other nations.
Pakistan’s Universal Service Fund was established by the Ministry of Information Technology, which I had the pleasure of visiting earlier on.
The USF has a ground-breaking ‘corporate model’, with both government and private sector members on its Board. This means it can benefit from the best of both worlds, uniting policy vision with commercial discipline. Today, the USF Company is pioneering vital programs such as ‘Broadband for Un-served Urban Areas’.
Another of your programmes aims to extend the reach of optic fibre connectivity to un-served Tehsils [administrative divisions].
I understand that there are around 400 Tehsils in the country, with some 30% lacking access to fibre connectivity, so there is clearly an important task ahead, and I would strongly urge you to pursue this good work.
I understand you are also giving special emphasis to educational institutions, which aims to set up computer labs with Broadband in some two thousand high-schools and colleges, and that around 700 Community Broadband Centres will be established for people who cannot afford computers.
In the past, Universal Service Funds in some countries have occasionally received bad press coverage for being bureaucratic, slow-moving institutions, with a reputation for being good at accepting money, but not always so good at disbursing or sharing it.
I am pleased to say, however, that ITU’s latest research for our Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2012 report identifies that this is certainly not the case for Pakistan, which our report calls a ‘disbursement success story’.
Looking at success stories, it seems clear that good USFs benefit from clear rules; effective public consultation processes; transparent administrative processes; and good governance.
These are good guidelines for a USF, or indeed any other institution, and I am pleased that Pakistan’s USF Company has been identified as a positive example in this regard.
Where you have the courage to lead, others may follow your example.
It is deeply gratifying to see that broadband remains at the top of the global political agenda.
This is important because broadband and digital inclusion are bigger and broader than the efforts of any single nation.
Your ability to roll out broadband to remote and rural areas of Pakistan will bring the light of knowledge and education to underserved areas.
Your work will help realize digital inclusion, which will determine the future competitiveness of Pakistan, and its ability to integrate with – and participate in – our future online world.
The key to Pakistan’s future success lies in your hands – and I encourage you to have the strength to forge ahead.
Let’s keep up the momentum in the conviction that we are doing the right thing at the right time.
With political will and deep commitment, 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!