On behalf of the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, as well
as on behalf of the United Nations Commission on Science and
Technology for Development, I would like to congratulate the
Secretary-General of ITU for his excellent report to the 2009
World Telecommunication Policy Forum. UNCTAD aligns itself with
the findings of the Report. We appreciate this opportunity to
address this forum. Let me confine my comments to a couple of
As the Report rightly recognizes, major developments have
occurred in recent years in the ICT sector with significant and
far-reaching implications, not least for developing countries.
The current global economic crisis represents an added challenge
for policymakers and other stakeholders to address.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have proven
to be a tremendous accelerator of economic and social progress.
Concerns raised at the time of the WSIS Summit in Tunis over a
widening “digital divide” have now waned as recent trends show
that developing countries are fast adopting ICTs.
Mobile telephony is especially important in low-income
countries. For example, in some least developed countries, they
outnumber fixed lines by 10 to 1. The divide is also narrowing
in terms of Internet penetration.
Despite such positive trends, there is no room for
complacency. Many difficult challenges remain and the
international community must pursue vigorously its efforts to
continue to bridge the digital divide. Large disparities still
exist in terms of penetration and affordability both across and
within countries. ICTs continue to be largely unaffordable to
most people in many poor nations, and significant gaps prevail
in ICT access between rural and urban areas, between men and
women, and between English and non-English speakers. Lack of
content – in local languages, reflecting the values, lifestyles,
and needs of local communities – is a serious obstacle to
closing the divide.
Moreover, the debate is shifting away from measurements of
basic connectivity to issues of speed, capacity and other
matters related to quality. For example, the gap between the
developed and developing worlds in broadband penetration is
large – and widening. This represents a particular challenge, as
broadband enhances a range of economically and socially
desirable online services.
Against this background, it is important to pay particular
attention to the situation facing developing, and especially
low-income countries. The case of the advent of next-generation
networks (NGNs), addressed in Draft Opinion 2, is relevant in
this context. In the poorest economies, mobile telephony is
substituting for fixed telephony and the focus is primarily on
exploring various wireless solutions to the broadband challenge.
The required national backbones and international connectivity
to facilitate the roll-out of NGNs are simply not there.
This has several ramifications. One is whether developing
countries, with their much lower diffusion of fixed
infrastructure, stand to become marginalized from the benefits
of NGNs. Even when ADSL is available, most users in developing
countries cannot afford the service. Furthermore, the lack of
fixed infrastructure to the home in developing economies means
that households are not able to have next generation integrated
services. This will slow the move to NGNs and convergence in
those countries and prevent citizens from having various
applications, services, and lower costs associated with delivery
over broadband networks.
The question remains whether some developing countries will
feel pressured to invest more in fixed networks on a large scale
to introduce NGN-based services or if wireless solutions will
turn out to be an adequate substitute.
UNCTAD would welcome a strengthened focus on low-income
countries in the Opinions. This is important from the
perspective of overcoming the digital divide, and in view of the
rapid technological developments that we are witnessing.
Well-designed national policies coupled with effective
international support can make a difference. In this context,
UNCTAD can offer various kinds of technical assistance in the
area of ICT Policies and law reform that can complement the work
of the ITU and other international organizations.
Before I conclude, I wish to thank the Government of Portugal
and the ITU for the excellent organization of this forum.
Thank you for your attention.