Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here with you this evening.
From the richest nation to the poorest, information and communication
technologies – ICTs – are now virtually ubiquitous.
The number of mobile cellular subscriptions globally has comfortably passed the
four billion mark, and over 1.6 billion people now use the Internet.
Here in the Dominican Republic huge progress has been made – especially in the
past five years, and especially in the vitally important areas of mobile
communications, and in access to the Internet.
Indeed, your country’s economic progress is exemplified by the advances made in
ICTs – and it was an honour to present the Dominican Republic’s First Lady, Dr
Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, with the World Telecommunication and Information
Society Day Award in 2007, for her outstanding personal contribution towards
building an inclusive and equitable global information society.
Five years ago, at the start of 2004, the Dominican Republic had 2.1 million
mobile cellular subscriptions; by the beginning of this year that number had
grown to over 7.2 million.
And today, almost 2.6 million people here have access to the Internet, compared
to just 731,000 five years ago.
This is very encouraging news. But we must do more – and at a global level – if
we are to avoid creating a new digital divide just as we are succeeding in
bridging the original divide.
This new digital divide might be called the ‘broadband breach’ – a gaping chasm
separating those communities that enjoy fast access to an online world
increasingly rich in multimedia content, and those communities still struggling
with slow, shared, dial-up links.
Why does this matter?
It matters, because in the 21st century, affordable broadband access to the
Internet is becoming as vital to social and economic development as networks
like transport, water and power.
Broadband access – and the next generation broadband network infrastructure
which underpins it – is a key enabler for economic and social growth.
Broadband changes everything.
It enables not just great new enabling applications, such as VoIP and IPTV, but
also the delivery of essential services – from e-health to e-education to
e-commerce to e-government.
And broadband is helping us make great progress towards meeting the Millennium
Development Goals – and improving the quality of life for countless people
around the world.
But speed is of the essence.
It takes over six days to receive a classroom DVD over a dial-up connection, but
only just over an hour with a good broadband connection.
Broadband is not just fast, but ‘always on’. That means government agencies and
commercial businesses can keep their websites up and running 24/7 and can
deliver their products and services in real time – whether that’s an online
primary school lesson, a remote health monitoring service or a broadcast of a
local football match.
Broadband is also a disruptive technology. It changes the way services are
provided and accelerates the trend towards the adoption of next-generation
Broadband enables providers to offer triple-play services – such as voice, data
and video – over one platform. The disruption also occurs through new
broadband-focused companies that are able to leverage market liberalization and
compete with incumbents.
As more users, particularly in higher-income economies, shift to broadband, the
take-up of voice and television services delivered over the Internet is growing
fast, and in a number of rich countries over a quarter of all fixed-line
subscribers are now accessing voice telephony over the Internet.
This is all very good, but there remain tremendous challenges ahead –
especially in the developing world, where broadband access remains not just
limited but prohibitively expensive.
In the top 15 countries included in the fixed broadband Internet sub-basket
published in the ITU’s recent report, ‘Measuring the Information Society’,
broadband subscriptions cost less than 1% of monthly Gross National Income (GNI)
per capita – and under 2.5% of GNI per capita in a further 25 countries.
At the other end of the scale, however, in the bottom 30 countries in the list –
most of which are LDCs – a monthly broadband subscription costs over 100% of
monthly GNI per capita.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is simply not acceptable.
So what can administrations do to drive down costs and accelerate broadband
Among the most important steps are to:
update or formulate plans recognizing the important role
of broadband for social and economic development;
diversify broadband provision by encouraging new broadband
operators and stimulating competition;
consider using universal service funds to distribute
broadband to rural and underserved areas, and to schools;
create investment incentives – by aggregating demand, for
example, or reducing customs duties;
help bring down costs by conforming to global standards
such as the ITU Recommendations;
and to move quickly to award spectrum for wireless
broadband such as third generation mobile telephony or fixed wireless
Finally, it is very interesting to note that broadband projects are among the
most noteworthy initiatives announced recently in the industrialized countries’
economic stimulus packages.
One problem we face, however, is that the same technology which is bringing a
host of exciting and empowering new services to the world’s people is also
enabling the rise of cyber-threats and cyber-crime.
As a result, cybersecurity has become a global preoccupation.
Back in 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society recognized that ICTs
cannot flourish in the absence of user trust and confidence in the online world.
That is why – as the facilitator of WSIS Action Line C5 on Building Confidence
and Security in the use of ICTs – we at ITU took the important step of launching
the Global Cybersecurity Agenda, or GCA.
The GCA is designed as a framework for cooperation and response, and focuses on
building partnerships and effective collaboration between all relevant parties.
At ITU, we have made tremendous progress, particularly in the past year, with
the opening of the GCA’s physical home at the IMPACT centre in Malaysia.
As well as our pioneering work in cybersecurity, I am also pleased to be able to
say that ITU is working on a whole range of initiatives that will both increase
global access to ICTs – and especially broadband – and at the same time bring
down the cost of that access.
Let me give you just a few examples of the work we are doing.
One of our most exciting projects is the ITU Wireless Broadband Partnership,
which is mobilizing key stakeholders to finance, plan, build, operate and
maintain wireless broadband infrastructure within beneficiary countries.
One of the most important aspects of the partnership is the recognition of the
need to balance social and economic development aims with the need for investors
and industry participants to see sufficient returns.
We are also rightly proud of our Connect a School, Connect a Community
initiative – a new public-private partnership effort to promote broadband school
connectivity to serve both students and the communities in which they live.
Connected schools have the potential to serve as community ICT centres to
provide access to services for people in isolate, rural, and marginal urban
areas – with a particular focus on groups such as women and girls, indigenous
people, persons with disabilities, and youth and children.
Another innovative project is our Connecting Villages programme, which aims to
help expand access to basic connectivity – including voice and SMS/text services
– in rural and remote areas.
The singularity of Connecting Villages is that it applies smart, low-cost
solutions, while leveraging flexible, bottom-up business models and
public-private partnerships to reach those who still remain unconnected.
The guiding principal behind Connecting Villages is that the networks and
services being rolled out to rural and remote communities need to be practical,
affordable and sustainable.
While it is absolutely vital to bring connectivity to the world’s unconnected,
there is not much sense in doing so if we do not also ensure that people have
the right skills and knowledge to use and take advantage of that connectivity.
As a result we have launched the ITU Academy, an umbrella framework for ITU’s
numerous learning and development initiatives – which provide training to
thousands of individuals in developing countries every year.
Each of these programmes and initiatives builds on the tremendous power of
partnership and the cooperative will of the international community.
Concrete proof of this incredible collaborative power came with the holding of
ITU’s first Connect event in Africa in 2007, which raised an unprecedented 55
billion US dollars in investment commitments targeting intra-regional
The ITU Connect Africa Summit, held in Rwanda, saw the international community
and the ICT industry make firm commitments to interconnect all African capitals
and major cities with ICT broadband infrastructure, and to strengthen
connectivity to the rest of the world by 2012 – as well as to extend broadband
and ICT services to all African villages by 2015.
These are highly ambitious targets, but I am confident they can be achieved.
Indeed, if there is any justice in this world, they must be achieved.