Broadband for Sustainable Development
21 April 2014, Asunción, Paraguay
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking the Government of Paraguay and CONATEL for your very kind invitation to visit this fine country.
On my way here to Asunción I learned that the ‘maté’ infusion is a Guarani tradition closely linked to friendship – and I have been so very generously welcomed here since my arrival.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Earlier this month, we held our four-yearly World Telecommunication Development Conference, WTDC-14, in Dubai. The event brought together more than 1,300 delegates from all over the world, and I was delighted to see that the question was no longer whether ICTs play a key role in economic and social development – this is already beyond question – but instead on how focus on bringing the benefits of ICTs to every person in the world.
WTDC-14 set the agenda for the next four years of ITU’s development work, and I would encourage all of you to have a good look at the outcome documents from that conference, and in particular the Dubai Action Plan and the Dubai Declaration, which address the most important development issues of our time.
Clearly ICTs – and in particular broadband networks – offer an extraordinary opportunity to make rapid and profound advances in global social and economic development.
WTDC-14 showed us the quite incredible progress that has been made in terms of ICT development in recent years, and reminded us that almost all of this progress has taken place in the developing world.
Indeed, the developing world accounted for 90% of the net additions in terms of mobile cellular subscriptions globally and 82% of the net additions of new internet users globally since 2010.
In numerical terms, that means we have 820 million more users of the internet in the developing world and two billion more mobile cellular subscriptions – in just four years.
However the Conference also reminded us that we still have a long way to go – especially in terms of broadband penetration.
At the beginning of this year, fixed and mobile broadband penetration rates in the developed world stood at 27.2% and 74.8% respectively; while in the developing world, they stood at 6.1% and 19.8%.
This is of tremendous and timely importance, as we approach the cusp between the MDGs next year, and the beginning of the post-2015 development process.
We have to make sure that broadband is recognized as a crucial element of the development process as well as an integral part of the future sustainable development framework.
And this of course is why ‘Broadband for Sustainable Development’ was chosen as the theme for WTDC this year.
Like all of you, I am convinced that by extending access to broadband, countries will quickly accelerate sustainable social and economic progress.
By delivering efficiencies across so many areas – from education and healthcare to transportation, water and energy – broadband networks can quickly pay for themselves, creating a virtuous circle of investment, productivity and human development.
To help world leaders see the ways that broadband can accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, ITU and UNESCO launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010.
One of the key roles of the Commission has been to create working groups in specialized areas, and one of the most interesting of these has been the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Finance and Investment – a subject which is clearly of great interest across the world, and surely here too in Paraguay.
At our most recent Broadband Commission meeting in Dublin last month we held a really stimulating meeting of this working group, and I was very impressed with the range of innovative and practical suggestions for financing and investment.
Several speakers reminded us that just twenty years ago, investments in telecom networks were the concern of governments alone – but that the changing nature of the sector – and in particular liberalization, privatization and competition – has increasingly shifted the responsibility towards industry.
There was general agreement in Dublin that the public and private sectors will clearly have to continue working hand-in-hand together.
This is partly due to sheer scale – broadband needs to become ubiquitous and affordable to all – and partly because today’s networks are already being used for so much more than merely commercial ends: they are also being used as platforms to deliver fundamental services such as education and healthcare.
There is also a need to be creative on funding and investment issues. Developing an application might not need big amounts of money – but the question is how to identify applications that will succeed. The answer is to stimulate the study of ICTs at every stage.
Ladies and gentlemen,
You may know that I am from Mali, which like Paraguay is a landlocked country with no direct connectivity to submarine cables – so I perfectly understand the additional burden that this situation means in terms of getting connected.
And this is why I especially appreciated the lead of the delegation from Paraguay in driving forward the Resolution on ‘Special measures for landlocked developing countries and small island developing states for access to international optical fibre networks’ during the World Conference on International Telecommunications at the end of 2012.
Access to international fibre optic networks, including submarine cables, on fair terms for all countries is a central condition for allowing equitable development. This is the kind of initiative that we are convinced should be promoted through and by ITU.
In parallel, each government should be considering plans to deploy broadband infrastructure to cover the whole of its territory in order to reach each and every person in the country.
We worked closely with CONATEL in 2011 to develop a National Telecommunications Plan with several goals for 2015, and the indicators today show that you have done better than expected in many areas.
However, ICTs are moving fast and the challenge to regulators is to keep the pace so that progress is neither blocked nor slowed down. All stakeholders must cooperate to allow new technologies to fulfil the transforming prophecies that precede them.
We are therefore proud to count on Paraguay as a key member of ITU´s Council, committed to actively participate with all the other decision makers in our present and future activities.
Paraguay is a country full of opportunities, and at the ITU we really believe in this potential. We have been working with CONATEL not just in defining relevant aspects to have a fairer telecommunications market. We are also organizing join activities that will take place here in Asunción next August, including the Americas Region Telecommunications Development Forum and a workshop to discuss the feasibility of a regional Internet Exchange Point.
As you know, having an IXP dealing with regional Internet traffic will substantially reduce connectivity prices and as a natural consequence it will benefit final users with reduced tariffs lowering the access barriers to the web – something that will really benefit everyone in the country.
It is quite clear that universal broadband access is the target – and this will require strong political leadership; a private sector willing to cooperate; and users who are both supportive and aware of the benefits they will gain; along with sustained international cooperation.
There is one other key ingredient I have not mentioned yet, and that is the need to dream big. Because if we want to build anything important and lasting, we have to dream big.
Broadband access is not just networks, fibre optics and cables; it is knowledge, education and health for all.
I have learned about how passionate the Paraguayans can be – so let’s see this passion, energy and commitment brought to the service of this dream!
And let´s encourage kids – and particularly girls – to enter the world of ICTs, and to take up useful careers in this most vibrant domain.
As you may know, this Thursday, 24 April, is ‘Girls in ICTs Day’, and we will be celebrating with thousands of events around the world aiming to promote the incredible opportunities a career in technology opens up to girls and young women everywhere. I will look forward to hearing the results from Paraguay!
Let me close by once again thanking the Paraguayan Administration for its continued commitment to our work, and let me thank you all for your presence here today.
We are all committed to the same goal – the goal of bringing the benefits of broadband to all the world’s people.
Thank you for your attention.