The Future is broadband
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here in Las Vegas today, and to take part in the Consumer Electronic Show’s ‘Technology and Emerging Countries Programme’.
Around the world, information and communication technologies – ICTs – are now virtually ubiquitous.
As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, there are now more than 4.6 billion mobile cellular subscriptions globally, and over 1.7 billion people use the Internet.
As the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union – which is ‘committed to connecting the world’ – this obviously means a great deal to me.
Indeed, we are well on the way towards meeting our goal – and more specifically of achieving the target of connecting the unconnected by 2015.
So – is ITU’s mission nearly complete?
Far from it.
Because simple connectivity is simply no longer enough.
The answer is broadband – and in the 21st century, social and economic development in every country on earth will depend on it.
Broadband changes everything – and especially in the developing world.
It’s not just about great new applications, like VoIP or IPTV. It’s also about completely transforming the way essential services can be delivered – from e-health to e-education to e-commerce to e-government.
It’s about helping to meet the Millennium Development Goals in every sector.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Broadband is not just fast, but ‘always on’.
That means businesses and government agencies can stay up and running 24/7 and deliver their products and services in real time.
It means individuals can access whatever they need, whenever they need it, without having to wait in line.
To us here in Las Vegas today, that may sound like stating the obvious, but in many parts of the world, broadband is either unavailable or unaffordable.
And even here in the United States, there are still many people without access to broadband – and all the benefits it can deliver.
It is therefore very encouraging to see the efforts being made by the US government to fund the expansion of America’s broadband network to help better serve rural areas and needy communities.
We must not allow a ‘broadband breach’ to develop just as we are succeeding in bridging the digital divide.
In the developing world this is as much, if not more, an issue of affordability as it is one of access.
In America, broadband access is the cheapest in the world, relative to Gross National Income – GNI – per capita, representing just 0.4% of monthly income.
In the ITU’s 2009 edition of ‘Measuring the Information Society’, broadband subscriptions cost less than 1% of monthly GNI per capita in the most affordable 15 countries, and under 2.5% of GNI in a further 25 countries.
Compare and contrast this with the other end of the scale, where in the bottom 30 countries in the list – most of which are UN-designated Least Developed Countries – a monthly broadband subscription costs more than the average monthly salary.
This is scandalous.
That’s why one of ITU’s key priorities is the delivery of equitable, affordable broadband access to the Internet. For all people – wherever they live and whatever their circumstances.
How can we accelerate investment in broadband networks and facilitate wider and fairer access to them?
One important thing to recognize is that broadband networks deliver benefits across the whole of society. This makes them incredibly cost-effective, especially when you look at the benefits across multiple sectors.
In Australia, for example, it has been estimated that cost savings in healthcare alone could pay for Australia’s National Broadband Network twice over.
Or take energy – a resource which will become ever more precious as this century unfolds. Today, almost a third of all energy is simply wasted, through a lack of smart grids and an advanced ICT infrastructure. The potential savings are enormous.
But if we recognize that broadband networks deliver benefits at a national level, then we must also recognize that strong national policies will be needed to get other sectors involved in planning – and paying for – broadband infrastructure rollout.
This is a great example of how the huge pool of talent and the massive investment resources of the private sector can be used to benefit both industry and consumers alike.
This vision needs to be driven by leaders at the very highest level – presidents and prime ministers for example – who have the national interests at heart and don’t work within any individual sector such as health or education or energy.
This also means understanding that broadband networks are national infrastructure – just like roads, railways or water systems. And that there needs to be some kind of structural separation between infrastructure and the services that are delivered over the infrastructure.
This approach applies just as much to developing countries as it does to developed ones – with a clear need for national broadband strategies and policies; meaningful broadband targets and goals; and putting in place the necessary incentives to achieve rapid broadband deployment.
We know this works.
Ten years ago, the Republic of Korea had a broadband penetration of just 1%. To drive take-up, the government launched Cyber Korea 21, a programme offering affordable IT education to marginalized groups like housewives, the elderly, and the disabled.
Complementing this, Korea embarked on a comprehensive e-government programme, investing US$24 billion in a national fibre backbone that provides more than 28,000 government departments and agencies with fast broadband access.
And as we all know, Korea is now one of the world’s most advanced broadband markets. With broadband penetration of over 32% at the beginning of 2009, compared to 23.5% in the USA, Korea has demonstrated the power of political will in bringing broadband to the people.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Embracing broadband development will help drive growth and deliver benefits right across society and right across every industry sector – including, of course, the consumer electronics industry.
Build broadband networks and everything else will follow.
The ability to control and use energy supplies more efficiently.
The ability to manage healthcare in ageing populations.
The ability to deliver the best possible education to future generations.
The ability to help meet the Millennium Development Goals.
And the ability to take better care of our environment.
Let’s make the world a better place – and put broadband first.