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Strategic Dialogue on ICTs: Confronting the Crisis, 21 April
Welcoming remarks by Dr. Hamadoun I. TOURE, ITU Secretary-General 

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the ITU Strategic Dialogue on ICTs.

I know that I speak on behalf of all participants when I say that we are deeply honoured by the presence here today of Minister Mario Lino from Portugal.

I would also like to say a sincere thank you, on behalf of the ITU, for the unfailing support and warm welcome we have received from the Portuguese Administration in hosting the World Telecommunication Policy Forum 2009 here in Lisbon. I have no doubt that your dedicated support and hospitality will ensure the success of this Forum.

WTPF 2009 was first conceived at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya in 2006, where ITU Member States were concerned by the implications of convergence and the transition to NGNs for the telecommunication industry.

In response to these concerns and the needs of its Members, ITU undertook preparations for this Forum. However, since then, the intervening financial crisis and global economic slowdown have challenged the very fabric of global finance and tested our governments and international institutions.

This is why I have convened this Strategic Dialogue, preceding the Forum, to give special attention to the immediate impact of the financial crisis, alongside the more long-term challenges our industry faces.

Distinguished colleagues,

The world, as we all know, is experiencing the fall-out from the collapse of the biggest speculative bubble in history. The ensuing economic slowdown has resulted in unemployment for millions and a sharp slump in international trade.

In this difficult economic environment, however, I am not a pessimist.

The financial crisis will challenge many businesses. But it will also, I believe, give birth to new institutions, revitalize communications, and enable new entrants, new business models, and new technologies to emerge.

Every crisis brings with it fresh opportunities.

From the First World War, the League of Nations was born.

During the Great Depression, ideas of Keynesian economics and demand management were first put into practice.

From the Second World War, we inherited the Bretton Woods institutions and a new system of global governance.

I believe this crisis will be no different – offering real opportunities for those quick enough, and brave enough, to seize them.

The recent G20 summit in London helped coordinate the international response to the crisis. And I am especially pleased that article 25 of the Summit Declaration reaffirms the G20’s commitments to the developing world in meeting the Millennium Development Goals and calls on the UN to establish an effective mechanism to monitor the impact of the crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable.

Two days after the G20 summit, on the fourth and fifth of April, the Chief Executives of the United Nations’ Agencies met in Paris, and we welcomed the G20 decisions, and reinforced our determination to take decisive and urgent action.

Indeed, there is much work already underway across the UN system in different agencies, which is helping to reinforce the UN’s role as a unique forum where developing countries can play their part in debating and defining post-crisis scenarios.

The UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development, which is being held in June, will take stock of evolving developments, and will, I am convinced, continue to emphasize the importance of strengthened financial regulation and oversight.

At the Chief Executives’ Board meeting in Paris we agreed on nine joint initiatives to assist countries and the global community at large to confront the crisis, accelerate recovery and pave the way for a fairer and more sustainable globalization.

I am proud to say that ITU played an active role in this process in emphasizing the contribution of ICTs to job creation, economic growth and increasing economic productivity and efficiency.

Of the nine specific initiatives, ITU work will contribute to the green economy initiative and the global jobs pact initiative. Most importantly, ITU will lead the initiative on technology and innovation, in conjunction with WIPO and UNIDO.

At ITU, we have also launched our own work programme tracking the evolution of the financial crisis and its impact on the telecommunication/ICT industry, and we published our report on the impact of the crisis in February. But ICTs are not just suffering the fall-out of the crisis: ICTs can also be a vital part of the solution.
ICTs have an integral role to play in fuelling economic recovery. They are a driving force for economic growth. New data storage, communication and transmission technologies have achieved sizeable and important productivity gains across other economic sectors.

In recognition of the importance of ICTs in generating economic growth, a number of countries have included substantial investments in broadband infrastructure as part of their economic stimulus packages, in addition to existing national broadband schemes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

ITU is hosting this Strategic Dialogue today as part of our work programme to debate how we may best go about ‘Confronting the Crisis’.

Your discussions are vital to defining the strategic interests of the ICT industry in these challenging times. I want you to define the key issues for the industry as you see them, consider the consequences, and outline possible strategies to help mitigate the impact of this crisis for all the major stakeholders.

I would like to hear the different perspectives of operators, regulators and policy makers on how we can best confront the crisis, in order that ITU can do what it has always done best – that is, build consensus out of diverging opinions.

My hope is that today’s Strategic Dialogue will play an important role in helping define the telecommunication industry’s response.

Together, I believe we can make a valuable contribution in setting out ways forward for the industry, whilst learning from the insights of the eminent and experienced policy makers and professionals in our four panel sessions today – each of which will also generate concrete inputs for the next edition of ITU’s report on the crisis.

In the first session, we ask:
Is this crisis any different? We will look at the crisis, and similarities and differences with previous crises, as well as predictions for the future – which is, of course, famously hard to predict. A year ago, few could have anticipated that we would be experiencing economic turmoil on this scale. Today, few can forecast the outcome.
In our own industry, and in the most financially-important ICT sectors, we have very little historical data to go on. During previous recessions, mobile telephony and broadband Internet access were not mass-market services – so consumer demand during a downturn has never been seriously tested.

There are signs of hope, however, both in the global picture and in our own industry.

Globally, it looks as if house prices in the most-affected markets are now beginning to stabilize – and while this is not a sufficient condition on its own for a broader recovery, it is a necessary one.

And where ICTs are concerned, I am pleased to see that governments have committed both to large ICT infrastructure development, as part of a general fiscal stimulus, and to doing more for the developing world, particularly through institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank.

The second session will examine:
A theme particularly dear to my own heart: How investment and financing in ICTs can help to overcome the crisis.

It is particularly encouraging, as I mentioned before, to see a fresh commitment to the roll-out of new networks to help bridge the digital divide, which will be crucial to delivering affordable, accessible access to broadband Internet services over the coming years. The cooperation between the public and private sectors in financing these new investments is impressive – particularly in key areas such as infrastructure-sharing.

Anyone who knows me well will know that I am not a great believer in aid, but instead in creating the right kinds of environment for business to flourish.

Our ITU Connect events – the first of which was held in 2007 in Africa, with the next taking place in Belarus in November this year – are testament to just how successful this business-friendly approach can be; both in stimulating the economies of the developing world and in driving innovation.

I was therefore very encouraged, at the G20 summit in London at the beginning of the month, to see that the 1.1 trillion dollar package agreed there will primarily go to developing countries in crisis.

The third session today looks at:
Telco strategies, especially in the face of the sustained decline in prices, which has been great for consumers worldwide – and especially those in developing countries – but which puts extra pressure on companies, particularly at a time of crisis. It will be interesting to hear what regulators and operators have to say, and to find out how the market is responding to changes in consumer demand.

Finally, the fourth session will investigate:
The experience of the industry. Leading ICT industry players will give us the latest news and views from the business perspective, and I’m looking forward to hearing about the latest new technologies under development.

Distinguished colleagues,

While acknowledging the very real issues facing the world – and our industry – it is important to remain positive. And there is, in fact, much to be positive about.

Telecoms and the Internet are now vital service platforms, underpinning international trade and the global financial system, as well as personal communications.

We should also remember that the ICT industry has created more jobs over the past five years than any other single industrial sector.

Demand for mobile telephony remains strong, especially in large emerging markets such as Brazil, China, India and Nigeria, which are still registering good levels of subscriber growth.

ICTs are among the most powerful tools businesses have at their disposal to improve efficiency and reduce costs. And communication devices and technologies like telepresence will become even more important, as businesses cut back on corporate travel.

In closing, therefore, I would like to share with you a quotation I came across recently which struck me as relevant to the current crisis – and especially to the role of ICTs:
“United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do.”

Those words were of course spoken by John F Kennedy during his inaugural address, almost 50 years ago – but they still ring true today.

In this Strategic Dialogue, let us therefore be united, in focusing on solutions to the crisis that will stimulate investment and growth, particularly in the developing world.

Thank you.