Speech from Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General

ITSO - 32nd Assembly of Parties
Estoril, Portugal
6 October 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Firstly, let me thank ITSO for your kind invitation to be here today at your thirty-second assembly.

It is always a personal pleasure to be at the heart of the satellite community. I was just a small boy when the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, was launched into space in 1957, and I have been a passionate believer in the power of satellites ever since. As many of you know, before joining ITU, I also spent some 11 years working at Intelsat.

At the World Summit for the Information Society in 2005, we committed to connecting the world’s unconnected by 2012 – bringing access to ICTs to every village on the planet.

Progress in meeting this ambitious goal to ‘Connect the World’ has been more than impressive.

Just ten years ago, at the end of 1998, there were 844 million fixed line and 319 million mobile subscribers, for a total of just under 1.2 billion subscribers globally.

But by the beginning of this year, those numbers had increased far beyond our most optimistic forecasts, to reach 1.3 billion fixed line and an astonishing 3.3 billion mobile subscribers.

Within the next few weeks, there will be more than four billion mobile subscribers worldwide – an incredible achievement.

Technologies such as ground-based mobile communications, fibre-optics and broadband wireless have done a huge amount in a very short space of time to bring many more of the world’s people into the ICT fold, and will continue to do so.

We have precious little time, however – only a very few short years – to meet the WSIS and Millennium Development Goals. The ambitious target is to connect all the world’s villages, hospitals, schools and governments, and to ensure that the whole world’s population has access to television and radio services.

This is no mean task. In regions such as the Pacific, the population is sparsely spread over vast areas of remote land and sea. And in many developing countries, most people live in rural and isolated areas, with virtually no infrastructure in place.

Dear colleagues,

Satellite communications will, I believe, be essential in helping us achieve our goals and bridging the digital divide.

No other technology can so quickly achieve large-scale coverage of widely-dispersed populations, or deliver quality connectivity to remote and isolated areas.

And if we can connect the furthest offshore sailor at sea and the alpinist climbing an isolated mountain peak, then surely we can also connect the world’s remaining unconnected villages too?

In the past, the satellite industry has too often been absent from the development sphere. Mainly, that has been an issue of price. Building, launching and operating satellites is an expensive business, and satellite capacity has historically been too costly for many people in the developing world.

We must not be discouraged in our goal to connect the world, however – and the satellite industry must be active in seeking creative ways of achieving it. Constructive public-private partnerships are one way forward, for example, through the use of universal access funds – recognizing that in many parts of the world access simply cannot be delivered by any other means than satellite.

We should be working together – governments, intergovernmental organizations and the industry – to ensure this happens. That way, we can leverage the power of satellite technology to promote affordable access to high-speed Internet services to under-served, remote and sparsely populated areas around the world.

To achieve this goal, and establish a framework for satellite broadband service, we must also recognize the criticality of three components: the identification of harmonized frequency spectrum worldwide; the use of an open and global transmission standard; and the harmonization of the relevant regulatory principles.

ITU is actively working in all three areas – through our World Radiocommunication Conference; through our collaborative standardization efforts; and through our work with the global regulatory community to develop best practice frameworks.

If we are successful, there is no reason why access to high-speed Internet services via satellite cannot be delivered at prices and conditions which are comparable to terrestrial broadband technologies.

Surely, this is one of the major benefits of having a satellite operator with public service obligations. The rich world is already very well-served with access, connectivity and technology, but we must never forget the hundreds of millions of people who have yet to gain access to the benefits of ICTs.

I am confident that ITSO will play its part in helping connect the unconnected, and I am looking forward to working together with you to ensure that the essential role and future potential of satellite communications will not be neglected.

Thank you