Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré
The Telecom Leaders Summit : Opening Speech
19 June 2014, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be with you here in Dubai today, and to have this opportunity to say a few words about ‘The Rise of the Broadband Economy’.
As many of you will know, I was here in Dubai just two months ago for the ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Conference, WTDC-14, and the theme of that conference was ‘Broadband for Sustainable Development’ – so clearly we are all thinking along the same lines.
One of the key topics discussed two weeks ago, when we held our annual Global Symposium for Regulators in Bahrain, was the need to create a positive investment climate to ensure that tomorrow’s infrastructure gets rolled out successfully.
This is important, because while we have succeeded very well in terms of mobile – by the end of the year there will be almost as many mobile cellular subscriptions as there are people on the planet – we still have much to achieve in terms of access to the internet, and especially broadband.
Indeed, more than half the world’s people are still offline – so we need to ensure that the incentives are there for government and industry to work together to bring the benefits of broadband to the unconnected billions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Clearly the solution lies in increased collaboration and partnership – not just between the public and private sectors (although this of course is vital) but also between operators and regulators too.
As the Secretary-General of the ITU, the UN specialized agency for ICTs, I have a unique perspective on this issue, because ITU is a unique organization – with 193 Member States and over 700 private sector and academic members.
Our members may have different viewpoints on some issues, but all of them agree that broadband rollout depends on investment, and recognize that the ICT sector is highly capital-intensive, particularly in the early stages of rolling out complex technical infrastructure.
Later on – when the networks are up and running – this is not so true; but first we need to get the networks rolled out.
This principle was very well demonstrated here in this region two years ago, when we held the ITU Connect Arab States Summit in Qatar.
These regional ITU Connect Summits – which ran from 2007 to 2013 – were designed to mobilize the financial, human and technical resources needed to expand ICT networks and access as a means of spurring investment, employment and broader social and economic development in each region of the world.
The ITU Connect Arab States event was an extraordinary summit, bringing together a record number of participants. Together, they seized over 47 billion US dollars in market opportunities in ICT projects to meet the needs of the region – and in particular new broadband networks and new applications and services in Arabic.
In the space of just a few days we showed the world that the Arab region is a place that continues to be full of optimism, hope, vitality, youth and entrepreneurship – and nowhere is this more visible of course than here in Dubai.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Another great example of the importance of getting investment incentives right was demonstrated at the ninth meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which took place in March this year in Dublin.
As many of you will know, the Broadband Commission was set up by ITU and UNESCO in 2010 to identify ways that broadband can accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, the MDGs, as well as working towards the post-2015 development agenda.
In Dublin, we held a really stimulating meeting of the Commission’s Working Group on Finance and Investment.
The meeting 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 has increasingly shifted the responsibility towards industry.
Clearly, in the 21st century, the public and private sectors will have to continue working hand-in-hand together.
This is partly due to the sheer scale of the subject – broadband needs to become ubiquitous and affordable to all – and partly because the broadband economy also means using networks as platforms to deliver fundamental services such as education and healthcare.
The Broadband Commission brings together – like ITU itself – a rare mixture of expertise from the public and private sectors, with the heads of some very well-known industry players, as well as government ministers and the heads of UN agencies.
It was therefore fascinating to hear the Commission get to grips with the real issues – which include spectrum, taxation and tariffs, universal service obligations, and harmonizing policies to attract investment.
Several times we heard – from both the private and public sectors – that sound and effective regulatory frameworks were key to encouraging potential investors and investments – and clearly further regulatory harmonization in this particular region will facilitate integration and the creation of common markets.
We also need to ensure the independence and autonomy of the regulatory agencies themselves – so that both operators and consumers have confidence in their deliberations and decisions – understanding that where ICTs are involved, there are an almost infinite number of win-win solutions.
We are privileged to be working in a sector which offers almost unlimited potential.
ICTs – and in particular broadband networks – offer perhaps the greatest opportunity we have ever had to make rapid and solid advances in global social and economic development.
As we approach the cusp between the MDGs next year, and the beginning of the post-2015 development process, this is of tremendous and timely importance.
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.
Personally, I have tremendous faith that the public and private sectors will continue work together to invest in, and to roll-out, ICT infrastructure – in this region and across the world – and that we are on the brink of the broadband economy.
And that is the key message I want to leave you with today: this is the ultimate win-win game.
So let’s play to win!
Thank you for your attention.