Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, let me thank the government of Greece and the Greek Permanent Mission
to the UN for the kind invitation to speak at this event. If there is one thing
dear to ITU’s heart it is the contribution that Information and Communication Technologies can bring to development and social progress – precisely the theme of this conference.
In a few days, on May 17, we will celebrate World Telecommunication and Information
Society Day, marking the official founding of ITU and the signing of the first International
Telegraph Convention in 1865. Since that time, ITU and its members have worked tirelessly
to improve access to information and communication technologies around the world.
And while we can be justifiably proud of our achievements, as this year’s WTISD
will make clear, there is still plenty of work to be done.
While some people have suggested that the WTISD could have a more user-friendly
title, this year’s special theme is all about accessibility.
With the theme Connecting
Persons with Disabilities – ICT Opportunities for All, we want to raise the inclusion
banner high and encourage the world to take a step closer to our shared vision of
universal access. Because talking about universal access is not enough; we must
do everything we can to actually realize it. We must ensure that no one is left
out, for any reason: age, health, or physical ability. The concept of the “Digital
Divide” between the Haves and the Have-nots, is not merely a question of rich vs.
poor. There is still a large percentage of the global population that is barred
access from enjoying the same kind of services and
opportunities as the rest. We
can change this through more inclusive standardization, smarter design and more
enlightened policies. The ideas and information that will be shared this May 17
will form an important impulse for creating new standards and recommendations for
governments and industry around the world.
We know the positive effective that ICTs can have on job creation, enterprise development,
income sustainability, innovation and even cultural identity. Without a doubt, ICTs
have become a vital source of social development and economic growth. Today, being
connected to the world means having an effective ICT infrastructure. At ITU, we’re
committed to helping make this a reality everywhere in the world. That is why we
took the leading role in organizing the WSIS – the World Summit on the Information
Society – held in two phases: in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005. And it is why
I am happy to be here today at your event, witnessing the sharing of ideas, the
forming of a common vision and – hopefully – the creation of partnerships and projects
that will help propel us forward.
At the two World Summit events, ICT leaders collectively charted a vision for the
future development of a global information society, which was then laid down in
the Geneva Declaration of Principles and Action Lines, followed by the Tunis Commitment
and Tunis Agenda.
Together, these documents set out a clear and ambitious set of
targets for 2015. These include connecting all villages, towns and cities of the
world, as well as recognizing the role of ICT in achieving the United Nations Millennium
Development Goals: goals such as cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring that
all children receive a primary school education, improving literacy and health care,
promoting gender equality and ensuring environmental sustainability.
It is now 2008 and while we have only 7 years left to meet the 2015 Millennium Development
Goals, ITU has bold plans to connect all those as yet unconnected by as early as
2012. However, we know that we cannot meet this challenge alone. That is why we
launched the Connect the World initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative to mobilize
the necessary resources for realizing concrete projects in every region of the world.
We were delighted with the success of the first regional initiative, Connect Africa,
which was launched at the Connect Africa Summit in Kigali in 2007. At this summit,
55 billion dollars was pledged to develop ICT infrastructure on the African continent, a clear sign of investors’ belief in the potential of telecommunication markets.
Connect Summits for other regions will definitely follow. ITU plans to use these
summits and the momentum created to mobilize like-minded stakeholders in each region,
matching up global players and creating dynamic partnerships which will work together
to expand ICT networks, attract further investment, and foster broad social and
The Connect the World initiative is a good example of ITU’s response to the goal
of greater global connectivity, a goal laid out in one of Action Lines defined at
the Geneva phase of the WSIS. While ITU actively supports all Action Lines, we were
given a special mandate to take the lead role in two of them, namely “Information
and communication infrastructure” and “Building confidence and security in the use
of ICTs”. These two WSIS Action Lines, for which ITU is sole Facilitator, are closely
aligned with ITU’s own strategic goals of “Bridging the Digital Divide” and “Safeguarding
However, the telecommunications road to increased development and improved social
conditions is not always a smooth one. Cybercrime and privacy issues are real threats.
Citizens must have faith in the infrastructures that are built and the services
which are on offer. These issues were the stimulus behind the Global Cybersecurity
Agenda, an ITU framework for international cooperation that I launched
whose mandate is to propose strategies for solutions to enhance confidence and security
in the information society. Another area of concern is the sheer pace of evolution.
Developments in the ICT field can be so rapid that it is difficult to keep up. That
is why we are helping small countries band together to develop common strategies
and turn what could be a liability into an advantage. Finally, every country has
its own particular barriers to development, which is why we are doing everything
we can to support Member States in meeting their WSIS commitments by 2015.
In short, ITU is doing everything it can to mobilize the technical, financial and
needed to make the global information society a reality. We ask
all stakeholders – manufacturers, service providers, international organizations,
NGO’s and policy makers – to join us in creating a more equitable, more peaceful
and more connected world.
As sea merchants and creators of such institutions as the Oracle at Delphi, Greece
has always understood the importance communication technologies play in society.
Today, organizations like the EETT and OTE are carrying this tradition forward into
the modern era. And by taking part in events like this conference, they – and others
–demonstrate what kinds of projects are possible, what challenges can be overcome
and how, and open the way for new ideas and partnerships.
Aesop, the ancient Greek storyteller, ended one of his famous stories with the credo
“united we stand, divided we fall.” He could easily have been talking about the
world of ICT.
Our connectedness is only as strong as our weakest link. So let’s make sure that each of us do what we can to create the most advanced and robust
infrastructures, the most user-friendly and inclusive services and – ultimately
– the most sustainable societies.