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

WSIS Forum 2009 - Opening
Geneva, Switzerland
18 May 2009

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you this morning to open the WSIS Forum 2009 in the distinguished company of Dr Supachai PANITCH PAKDI, the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, and my dear friend, Mr Edouard Dayan, Director General of the UPU. I also have the honour to have Mr Abdul Waheed Khan, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO, and Ms Najat Rochdi, Deputy Director of the UNDP Office in Geneva, who are our partners in this endeavour and who are the co-organizers of this WSIS Forum.

I am also honoured to have with us here the presence of the Minister of Communications and Information Technologies of Azerbaijan, His Excellency ABBASOV ALI; the Minister of Telecommunications and Information Society of the Republic of Serbia, Her Excellency JASNA MATIC; and the Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Technology of Afghanistan, His Excellency EHSAM BARYALAI.

I am also grateful that many other high-level participants will join us during the course of this week.

It is exactly three and a half years today since the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society concluded in Tunis on 18 November 2005.

A great deal has been accomplished since then.

We have made tremendous progress in connecting the world. This is evidenced by the report entitled “Measuring the Information Society”, published by ITU in March 2009.

This report presents important analysis of how the information society is growing globally, regionally, and by country.

The report confirms earlier ITU estimates that, by the end of 2008, the world had reached unprecedented levels of access to information and communication technologies (or ICT in short).

There were over 4 billion mobile phone subscriptions. More than two thirds of these subscriptions are in the developing world. During the same time period, the number of Internet users has increased from about one to 1.5 billion. By today, almost a quarter of the world’s 6.7 billion people were using the Internet, and more and more have high-speed broadband access. Technological advances, innovative applications and devices and falling prices are allowing people across the world to join the information society.

However, differences remain in ICT levels between regions, and between developed and developing economies.

As partners in WSIS, we must now take a bold new look at the initiatives we are implementing and evaluate what still needs to be done to meet the WSIS targets and goals.

These targets include connecting, by 2015, all villages around the world, and bringing ICT to all universities, schools, research centres, public libraries and other facilities, as well as clinics and hospitals. Local and central government departments too should be connected and accessible online by this target date.

World leaders at WSIS recognized the role of ICT in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs), which range from making extreme poverty history to putting all children into primary school, and from improving health care to ensuring environmental sustainability — all by 2015.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The WSIS targets and the Millennium Development Goals have one common strong link. They are all about putting people first by the year 2015.  We have a busy week ahead.  Let us all use the coming days to take stock of where we are in relation to this important date. 

The year 2010 is also a key date as it will mark the half-way point between the Tunis phase of WSIS and 2015, when the United Nations General Assembly will review how WSIS outcomes and the MDGs are being implemented. ITU will also use this occasion to assess the achievements of the WSIS targets.

The MDGs not only recognize the potential of ICTs as a development enabler but also highlight the importance of “cooperation to make the benefits of ICTs available to all”. This gives the WSIS Forum, which is based on an open and multi-stakeholder approach, a particularly important role.

We need a road map now in readiness for this review. I am confident that the meeting of the United Nations Group on the Information Society (or UNGIS in short), which will take place on Friday afternoon, will reflect on this. UNGIS must also recommend ways of strengthening the role of the WSIS Forum.

“WSIS Forum” is the new name for what we used to call “WSIS Cluster” of events. With this change in name, we also hope to achieve a Forum that is more inclusive and more focused on concrete results.

As you will see from the programme, the Forum also includes, for the first time, a number of High-Level Panels, which address some of the most important issues we face at a global level.

We will be looking at the financial crisis tomorrow morning; cybersecurity tomorrow afternoon; climate change on Wednesday morning; and ICT applications for a better life on Wednesday afternoon.

The current global financial and economic crisis threatens progress on the MDGs, and indeed on the WSIS goals and targets.

But I am very optimistic. One reason for this optimism is because technical advances continue at an almost incredible pace. We are now on the beginning of a new development — the move to “super-fast” or very high-speed broadband. And I am very encouraged by the many investments being made in super-fast broadband by governments and the private sector around the world, even amid the current financial crisis.

In the home, super fast broadband will allow different members of a household to access a variety of high-bandwidth services simultaneously. These could include watching high-definition television (more commonly known as HDTV), playing interactive online games and streaming or downloading music, television programmes and films over the Internet. For businesses, it will enable simultaneous services such as two-way video calls and improved data retrieval.

We must all play our part in ensuring that ICTs are made accessible and affordable to all people everywhere. I firmly believe that ICTs have the power to accelerate progress towards the achievement of all MDGs.

I look forward to a week of fruitful discussion.

Thank you very much indeed for your attention.