Speech from Mr Houlin Zhao, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

Summit of Mediterranean Towns & Local Authorities
1st Round Table Session

Malaga, Spain
3 October 2008

Ladies and gentlemen,

Information and communication technologies have emerged as the great enabler of modern society, helping people communicate across distance and across cultural divides, facilitating trade, and providing access to the educational resources and information that are vital to every human endeavour.

Before we begin today’s in-depth discussions, let us briefly review the current state of play, particularly with regard to those nations most in need.

I am pleased to be able to tell you that ITU figures show that the 49 Least Developed Countries have been making enormous progress in connecting their populations.

The total number of fixed telephone subscribers in the LDCs as a whole has risen almost 30-fold over the past eight years, from 3.8 million to 107 million.

In addition, the LDCs now have a combined total of over 110 million cellular subscribers – up from just 800,000 mobile connections between them eight years ago. As a result, average total teledensity across this group of countries had climbed to almost 14% by the start of 2008, and several LDCs are currently ranked among the world’s fastest-growing mobile markets.

In a rapidly globalizing economy, broadband networks are becoming essential basic infrastructure, as vital to economic and social development as networks like transport, water and power.

Our priorities must therefore centre on bringing broadband Internet within easy reach of all communities, if we are to avoid creating a devastating new Digital Divide.

With their impressive cellular penetration, many developing countries are in a prime position to harness new broadband wireless technologies that can deliver fast, affordable Internet service regardless of a country’s lack of landline infrastructure. WiMAX, Mobile WiMAX, IMT-Advanced, latest-generation VSAT – these and other new technologies have enormous potential to bring affordable access to populations in the developing world.

Working closely with the private sector is one of the most effective ways of leveraging such new opportunities. Cooperative public-private development initiatives led by government and intergovernmental agencies such as ITU and the DSF have an important role to play in improving access to ICT resources.

DSF funds are currently supporting projects to provide ICT and Internet access to communities fighting HIV/AIDS in Burkina Faso and Burundi, Columbia and Cuba.

ITU is pleased to collaborate successfully with Wisekey since 1999 in many projects at the international level supporting initiatives like this one.

For ITU’s part, in 2005 we supplemented our many grassroots development projects with a new global initiative called ‘Connect the World’. This is an innovative strategy that promotes multi-stakeholder synergies between private companies, governments and development agencies.

Our first Connect Africa Summit, held in Kigali last October, generated over 55 billion dollars’ worth of commitments to interconnect all African capitals and major cities with broadband infrastructure and strengthen connectivity to the rest of the world by 2012.

The outstanding success of this initiative has prompted us to announce a second Connect event, focused this time on the CIS, which will be held in Belarus next year.

At a governmental level, best-practice regulation and pro-ICT policies will also be critical. While the need for infrastructure investment is incontrovertible, our best efforts will come to nothing if we fail to create a climate in which operators and service providers can flourish.

A fair, transparent and enabling business environment that helps ICT entrepreneurs realize their goals, to the benefit of both users and local economies as a whole, is essential.

ITU partners with leading ICT manufacturers, developers and service providers on a wide range of capacity-building initiatives, including our global network of Internet Training Centres, our regional ICT Centres of Excellence, and our multilingual e-Learning programme. These initiatives complement many other worthy projects underway throughout the developing world aimed at empowering people to leverage the many benefits of new technologies.
Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

As the link between ICTs and economic prosperity grows ever-tighter, we must work together to develop innovative strategies that can propel even faster growth, so that today’s under-served nations can take their place as fully-fledged participants in the global economy.

I wish to take this opportunity to invite you all to Geneva to attend the ITU TELECOM World 2009 in order to continue developing our project. TELECOM World 2009 is the most important event in the sector of ICTs and is an international event which is organized every three years. Simultaneously, regional Telecom events are organized in each region of the world.

Thank you.