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

International Economic Forum:  Power of Innovation when Tomorrow Begins
St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
5 June 2009

How ICTs will play an important role in overcoming the economic crisis?
and why cybersecurity is essential in the information society?

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

What a great pleasure it is to be hre with you in St Petersburg today. Some of my formative years were spent studying in Russia, and in some sense coming to Russia always feels like coming home.

This afternoon I’d like to spend a few minutes discussing why I believe that ICTs will play an important role in overcoming the economic crisis, and why cybersecurity has become essential in the information society.

ICTs have become the great enabler of modern society, helping people communicate across distances and across cultural divides, facilitating trade, and providing access to critical resources, such as healthcare and education.

And ICTs today are truly ubiquitous. Globally, there are now well over four billion mobile phone subscriptions, and over 1.6 billion Internet users.

Technological advances, innovative applications and devices, and falling prices are allowing more and more people across the world to join the information society.

As a result, ICT networks have become at least as critical to economic and social development as more traditional networks such as transport, power and water.

Arguably the most powerful driving force transforming today’s ICT landscape, as new technologies and platforms steadily erode the links between infrastructure and applications, is of course convergence.

A good example is standard voice telephony, which has now strayed far beyond copper-wire POTS networks, and migrated to the airwaves, to co-axial cable TV links, and of course to the Internet.

Indeed the Internet itself – which increasingly is not just an information resource, but supports a vast range of business-critical applications and processes – has become the world’s most important data network, carrying an estimated five to eight billion gigabytes of data monthly[1].

To give an idea of what that means in terms of data capacity, all the words ever spoken by human beings throughout our long history could be stored (as text) in five billion gigabytes of data.

Underpinning the massive growth of the Internet is Next-Generation Networks, NGNs, which are already beginning to replace the traditional circuit-switched networks that have served as the basis of telephony since its inception well over a hundred years ago.

At ITU, we are leading the move to NGNs with our NGN Global Standards Initiative – one of the largest, most wide-ranging standardization projects ever undertaken.

We all look forward to an era of seamless connectivity to broadband services over any network and any device, worldwide – but we absolutely must ensure continued interoperability with legacy networks.

Ladies and gentlemen,

So what role will ICTs play in helping to overcome the economic crisis?

ICTs will have – I believe – an integral role to play in fuelling economic recovery. ICTs are a driving force for economic growth at a global level.

Investment in ICT infrastructure brings direct benefits in increased employment today, as well as benefits in increased social and economic prosperity tomorrow.

New communication, transmission and data storage technologies are also bringing sizeable and important productivity gains to other economic sectors.

Increased efficiency, productivity and cost-effectiveness will also be driven by further growth in collaborative networking platforms and smarter networked applications.

I am personally tremendously encouraged to see a fresh commitment – fuelled at least in part by the current crisis – to the rollout of new fast broadband network infrastructure in many countries around the world. These new networks will be crucial in delivering affordable, accessible access to broadband Internet services.

The cooperation between the public and private sectors in financing these new investments is impressive – particularly in key areas such as infrastructure-sharing.

Anyone who knows me well will know that I am not a great believer in aid, but instead in creating the right kinds of environment for business to flourish. And we are very lucky, in the ICT industry, to have, as our greatest natural resource, a resource that will never run out: human brainpower.

Our ITU Connect events – the first of which was held in Africa in 2007, with the next taking place in Belarus this November – are testament to just how successful this business-friendly approach can be; both in stimulating the economies of the developing world and in driving forward the economies of the developed world, while continuing to power innovation.

The financial crisis will challenge many businesses. But it will also, I believe, give birth to new institutions, revitalize communications, and enable new entrants, new business models, and new technologies to emerge.

Distinguished colleagues,

As technologies advance and applications multiply, high-speed always-on broadband access is an increasingly critical platform for business activity of all kinds, as well as for the delivery of services ranging from entertainment and interpersonal interaction, to education and health.

But the very tool that is bringing us a host of exciting and empowering new services is also bringing with it a special set of risks – which are compromising the safety and integrity of the Internet.

As a result, cybersecurity has become a global preoccupation.

Back in 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society recognized that ICTs, and the enormous benefits they can bring, cannot flourish in the absence of user trust and confidence in the online world.

As a result, as facilitator of WSIS Action Line C5 on Building Confidence and Security in the use of ICTs, ITU took the important step of launching the Global Cybersecurity Agenda, or GCA.

Designed as a framework for cooperation and response, the GCA focuses on building partnerships and effective collaboration between all relevant parties.

And 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.
IMPACT’s state-of-the-art Global Response Centre has been designed to serve as the world’s foremost cyberthreat resource centre, providing a real-time aggregated early warning system that helps countries quickly identify cyberthreats, and offers expert guidance on effective counter-measures.

IMPACT also provides governments with a unique electronic tool to enable authorized cyber-experts in different countries to pool resources and collaborate with each other remotely and securely, helping the global community respond immediately to cyberthreats.

The first phase of physical deployment has already been launched in some 20 countries, with further deployment in another 50 countries planned during the coming year.

International cooperation is absolutely crucial to our success. Only as a team can we succeed – with each member of the team working with the others for the common good.

I have a dream. I have a dream that – collaboratively, cooperatively – we can create an environment where business can flourish; where fast broadband infrastructure can be quickly rolled out; where access to services is easily affordable for all; and where our people have the necessary skills to use these new tools and networks with confidence.

Let us work together to achieve that dream.

Thank you.

[1] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exabyte