Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s a pleasure and privilege to be here today, in a country that is fast
emerging as one of the prime movers of global ICT growth. Asia itself now has
over two billion telephone subscribers. And at the heart of this vibrant ICT
market, Malaysia’s own teledensity now surpasses 100%, while the country’s
visionary MyICMS 886 plan is paving the way to the fast, converged Next
Generation Networks that will support a whole host of exciting new services and
Around the world, the challenge facing us today is not how to best incite
interest in new technologies. Here in Malaysia, throughout Asia, and in any
country you care to name, young people are clamouring for access to ICTs. The
young instinctively recognize the unprecedented potential of technology to
transform their lives and open up new vistas and new opportunities for learning,
for sharing, and for economic prosperity.
Our challenge lies in finding ways of rapidly giving young people in the
developing world what they want, and what they need, to cast off the bonds of
poverty, discrimination and isolation. To empower them with the tools and
resources they need to realize their potential and, in turn, empower their own
children through better access to information, medical care, and employment
If this seems a daunting challenge, it’s worth noting just how far we’ve
already come since ITU held Phase One of the UN World Summit on the Information
Society in Geneva just five years ago.
Back then, our estimates indicated that over 800,000 villages worldwide had
never had access to any kind of ICT. Back then, our figures showed that one
billion of the world’s people remained largely unconnected from the benefits of
modern information and communication technologies. And ITU statistics sadly
revealed that the Internet was often reaching less than 1% of the population of
the world’s poorest nations and isolated island states.
Today, Africa alone has over 265 million cellular connections and the highest
ratio of mobile subscribers in the world, with mobile accounting for almost 90%
of all lines. With around 235 million subscribers, India is poised to soon fall
into rank behind China as the second largest mobile market on the planet. Brazil
now has a mobile penetration of 63%. And many of the emerging economies of
south-east Asia are catching up very fast indeed.
New, lower cost technologies are helping. But much of that phenomenal growth
has been spurred by an evolving regulatory landscape that’s proving conducive to
entrepreneurial initiatives. Almost 90% of the world’s Least Developed Countries
now allow competition in the provision of mobile services – a development that
has helped drive the cost of access downwards at the same time as it has driven
the reach of networks outwards.
Ladies and gentlemen,
If these figures are encouraging, it is not because they show that we have
almost reached our goal of bridging the Digital Divide. It is because they show
what is possible, given the right investment climate and operating conditions.
The Digital Divide, as we all know, is still very much with us. Even in
Africa’s booming market, the continent’s top 10 economies account for a full
four-fifths of all mobile users. And nowhere is the Digital Divide more
pronounced than here in Asia, where mobile penetration ranges from below 5% in
countries like Myanmar, Nepal and Papua New Guinea to over 100% here in
Malaysia, or Hong Kong China, or Singapore, and where Internet access rates of
over 65% in countries like the Republic of Korea and Japan contrast sharply with
access figures of below 2% in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Lao.
Certainly, we’ve made some headway through the myriad development initiatives
that many of us are actively engaged in, which target needy countries and
regions around the world.
But if experience teaches us anything, I think it’s clear that we’ve made the
fastest and most effective progress where we’ve succeeded in developing
frameworks and policies that take into account the needs of all stakeholders in
ICT provision. In practice, that means actively engaging with the private sector
to develop investment partnerships that can help fund capital-intensive
projects, while working to ensure that policies and regulations create a level
playing field that encourages, rather than stifles, entrepreneurship.
In 2005 ITU launched an innovative development initiative called Connect the
World, which is entirely modeled on fostering cooperative initiatives between
government and private industry. Building on that, in October last year we held
our first-ever Connect Africa summit in Kigali, Rwanda, in a bid to inject the
impetus needed to bring Africa within reach of the 2015 Millennium Development
Those of you who participated in this event know that the level of interest
and enthusiasm was nothing short of extraordinary – proof, if it were needed,
that investors are now looking seriously at developing countries to drive growth
as other markets begin to saturate. By the end of the event, ITU had garnered
over 55 billion dollars in investment pledges, all focused on helping spur
continent-wide connectivity through cooperative projects designed to break many
of Africa’s most crippling ICT bottlenecks. We will build on this successful
approach by holding similar Summits in other regions, with the ultimate aim of
Connecting the World by 2015.
I spoke earlier about the need for a fair, transparent and enabling business
environment that can help ICT entrepreneurs realize their goals, to the benefit
of both users and local economies as a whole.
Infrastructure investment of the kind targeted by Connect Africa is vital –
but our best efforts will come to nought if we fail to create a climate in which
operators and service providers can flourish.
For many years, ITU has been very active in promoting regulatory best
practice, through our wide range of online regulatory resources, our range of
authoritative reports such as Trends in Telecommunication Reform, our ongoing
programme of regional seminars and professional training, and, of course, our
annual Global Symposium for Regulators.
Our latest GSR, held in March in Thailand, brought over 600 top-level
policy-makers together around the issue of sharing – shared infrastructure,
certainly, but also shared financing models, shared regulatory frameworks – and
best of all, shared rewards.
This radical new approach to the age-old problem of financing network
build-outs and the introduction of new technologies has the potential to
generate big payoffs for low income countries. Operators can not only share
facilities – towers, ducts, or rights of way – but can look at sharing the cost
of civil works with other infrastructure-centric sectors like energy,
transportation and water. Governments can look at stimulating investment through
shared-risk ventures with trusted private sector partners. And a shared,
harmonized approach to regulation can help open up new markets and drive down
costs for operators and users alike by creating important economies of scale.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our challenge, as I see it, is to find effective and innovative ways of
harnessing today’s huge user demand to the growing willingness of investors and
operators to venture into what, for some, is uncharted territory.
In the spirit of sharing that characterized the GSR, we need to view the
challenges before us as shared challenges, to be tackled together, rather than
left to someone else to sort out. Governments need to understand and come to
terms with the real business needs of infrastructure suppliers, operators and
service providers, while the private sector needs to be prepared to take the
longer view, and recognize that the rewards are most definitely there, even if
they take a little more time in coming.
By working constructively together, we can give those young people what they
want – affordable access to the most powerful tools ever invented for human
advancement and economic prosperity: information and communication technologies.