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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.