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

Primer Encuentro Nacional de Conectividad
Conectando a las Personas: Las Oportunidades de las Tecnologías de la Información y Comunicación para Todos
Guadalajara, Mexico
23 June 2009

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you in Guadalajara today.

And I am very pleased to have been offered the opportunity to speak to you this morning about a subject which is very close to my heart: the need to work together to ‘Connect the World’.

Before I do so, however, I would just like to say how much I am looking forward to being back here in Mexico in October next year for the ITU’s 18th Plenipotentiary Conference.

The Plenipotentiary Conference is the ITU’s top policy-making body and is held every four years. It sets our general policies, adopts four-year strategic and financial plans, and elects our senior management team.
In other words, it is the key event at which ITU Member States decide on the future role of our organization, and thereby determine our ability to influence and affect the development of information and communication technologies worldwide. Our Sector Members can also attend the Conference as observers, and I welcome their participation here in Mexico.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Information and communication technologies – ICTs – offer unrivalled benefits and directly foster social and economic development. It is therefore gratifying to be able to report that incredible progress has been made, particularly in the opening years of this new Millennium.

Today, from the richest nation to the poorest, ICTs are 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.

Mexico has itself made phenomenal advances in recent years, and by the beginning of 2009 could boast a total teledensity of close to 90%  – with some 96 million fixed telephone lines and mobile subscriptions combined.

As has been the case right around the world, the lion’s share of this progress has been in mobile cellular, with Mexico’s mobile market growing at over 20% annually over the five years to 2008, to reach 75 million subscriptions.

Today, more than 23 million Mexicans use the Internet, and Mexico has some 8 million fixed broadband subscribers.

I mention broadband because I am concerned that a new broadband digital divide is being created – just as we are succeeding in bridging the original divide and bringing most of the world’s people within easy and affordable reach of a phone.

Does this really matter?

Absolutely. It is absolutely crucial.

Indeed, 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.

Because 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.

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.

Speed is of the essence, however. While it takes approximately an hour to download a 25 megabyte video clip on a 56 kilobit per second dial-up connection, the same clip can be delivered in just 25 seconds on an 8 megabit connection. 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.

These disparities in access speeds mean that in terms of accessing content – even as they catch up with the developed world – developing countries are falling further behind than ever before.

Broadband is also important not just because it’s fast, but also because it’s ‘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.

Finally, broadband is a disruptive technology. It changes the way services are provided and accelerates the trend towards the adoption of next-generation networks. 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 some countries there are already more than a quarter of all fixed-line subscribers who now access voice telephony over the Internet.

Distinguished colleagues,

This is all well and 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 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.

This is a terrible irony: that the people who can least afford it are being asked to pay the most.

At ITU we are 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.

We are already working with governments and other partners to identify specific areas to be covered within each participating country and to determine and mobilize the resources required for implementation.

One of the most important aspects of the partnership, in my view, 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. Only then will the model be truly sustainable in the long term – and able to be widely replicated.

We are confident that there will be strong, positive, outcomes for the countries which participate in the Wireless Broadband Partnership. These include:

  • The deployment of wireless broadband infrastructure – including both backbone and access networks;

  • The development of a national ICT broadband network plan;

  • The training of local experts on the operation of the deployed network;

  • The development of ICT applications and services that will improve public services and create opportunities for sustainable economic growth and employment; and

  • Provision of low cost devices to expand ICT access – starting with laptops for schoolchildren in least developed countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Another flagship project which I think ITU can be rightly proud of is Connect a School, Connect a Community.

This is a new public-private partnership effort to promote broadband school connectivity to serve both students and the communities in which they live.

We all know that ICTs provide unprecedented opportunities to accelerate social and economic development – and as a result, communities which lack ICT access and know-how therefore risk being even further marginalized.

The problem is that providing individual or even household connectivity in rural and underserved areas is often too expensive to implement. The same is true when trying to serve disadvantaged and vulnerable groups within communities.

Smart policies and innovative public-private partnerships promoting community access through schools therefore represent an attractive, affordable and scalable alternative.

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.

Through Connect a School, Connect a Community, ITU is working with a range of partners to identify and compile best practices on polices, regulation, applications and services – as well as practical experiences to be shared with interested countries through the development of an online Toolkit and related capacity-building activities.

We hope that the project will act as a ‘one-stop shop’, bringing together all best practices systematically, and holistically addressing all of the inter-related layers of the school connectivity ecosystem.

And unlike a number of programmes in the past, Connect a School, Connect a Community doesn’t promote dial-up or low-speed Internet access, but instead focuses directly on broadband.

Another innovative project is ITU’s 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.

To achieve this, we are counting on partners including network operators and service providers, equipment manufacturers, governments (at all levels), regulators, local entrepreneurs and the communities involved.

Once the community-level network and business functions are in place, they will be managed locally – either by individuals within each village, or by entrepreneurs who license the mobile access rights for their surrounding area. Over time, we hope that this approach will play an important part in the development of locally-relevant mobile applications and content.

Dear colleagues,

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.

Recognizing this, global leaders at the World Summit on the Information Society, held in 2003 and 2005, agreed that everyone should have the opportunity to acquire the necessary knowledge to fully benefit from the emerging Information Society.

As a result we 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.

Through our many training opportunities – either face-to-face or through e-learning – we address a wide scope of topics ranging from specialized technical programmes for young people, to specialized training for government policy makers and regulators, to professional business-focused curricula for senior executives and managers.

Our growing network of ITU Academy partners encompasses more than a hundred training and education institutions worldwide, providing ‘front line’ training in the regions. This includes a rapidly growing network of more than 50 Centres of Excellence, made up of institutions sharing expertise, resources and capacity-building know-how in telecommunications and ICT training.

I’m proud to say that this partnership includes the Comisión Federal de Telecomunicaciones, COFETEL, here in Mexico.

The Academy also includes more than 60 Internet Training Centres. These help developing countries meet their human resource requirements for skilled Internet and ‘new economy’ professionals through Internet and IP-related technical training programmes.

Each of these programmes and initiatives builds on the tremendous power of partnership and the cooperative will of the international community. And I cannot overstate the importance of this to governments around the world.

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 connectivity.

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 – you will agree – highly ambitious targets, but I am confident they can be achieved with our collective efforts.

So let us not lose hope, or lose sight of the bigger picture, and let us work together – as partners, as stakeholders, and as business-people – to connect the world and ensure we bring the benefits of ICTs to all the world’s people.

For a better tomorrow.

Thank you – and I look forward very much to being here in Mexico again in October 2010 for our Plenipotentiary Conference.