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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

Odessa National O.S. Popov Academy of Telecommunications

9 September 2010, Odessa, Ukraine


Infocommunication: problems and perspectives of development


Cloud of words: networks, mobile, broadband, countries, ITU, people, economic, access...Excellencies,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you in Odessa this afternoon – and in particular to share in the celebrations and events surrounding the 90th anniversary of this eminent Academy.

The Academy is named after a great man in the history of science, Alexander Stepanovich Popov. We at the ITU also recently honoured the great Professor Popov – by naming our most important conference room after him in October last year.

I would very much hope that students from this Academy some day come to our Popov Room at ITU Headquarters – to debate the future shape of the information and communications technology sector, and to play your part in bringing affordable access to ICTs to all the world’s people.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am here this afternoon to discuss ‘Problems and Perspectives of Infocommunication Development’. And I would like to focus on one very specific area, which I believe will be crucial to the social and economic deveopment of every country on earth in the 21st century.

I am referring to broadband networks and communications, which will transform the world as we know it.

Tremendous progress has been made in the adoption and use of ICTs worldwide, especially over the past decade.

Here in Ukraine, for example, mobile cellular penetration passed 120% at the beginning of this year, and I imagine it would be very hard indeed to find a Ukrainian today of any age who didn’t have access to a mobile phone.

An emerging knowledge society is also clearly taking shape in Ukraine, with around a third of people online by the end of last year, and most access to the Internet now taking place over broadband connections.

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of broadband.

As the second decade of the 21st century unfolds, we can already see that broadband is an extraordinary tool for social and economic development.

It is no exaggeration to say that it is perhaps the greatest opportunity we have ever known for human progress.

Let me give you just a few examples:

  • With broadband networks, health services can be delivered far more effectively to ageing or isolated populations. Remote monitoring of patients, for example, has proven to be far more effective than bringing people in to clinics or hospitals.
  • With broadband networks, we can better educate the next generations of children, wherever they live. With wireless and mobile networks we can reach out to them wherever they are.
  • With broadband networks, traffic networks can be streamlined, government services can be delivered more efficiently, and energy supplies can be properly monitored, controlled and conserved.
  • With broadband networks, we can create the right environment for applications like mobile banking, which can improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world.
  • With broadband networks we can help to ensure environmental sustainability and help to manage and mitigate climate change.
  • And with broadband networks, progress can be accelerated towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

It is therefore my firm belief that broadband is – and will continue to be – an extraordinary enabler. Especially in the developing world. And especially in countries with large rural and remote populations.

Distinguished guests,

Two things need to change if broadband is to become a ubiquitous resource for all the world’s people, and not just something we in the developed world take for granted at the developing world’s expense.

Firstly, governments need to raise broadband to the top of the development agenda so that rollout is accelerated and the benefits are brought to as many people as possible.

And secondly, broadband needs to become much more affordable around the world.

Looking at the second point first, there are quite extraordinary disparities today between the affordability of broadband access in different countries around the world.

Let me give you some dramatic figures from ITU’s ‘Measuring the Information Society 2010’ report.

In the top 21 countries included in the fixed broadband Internet sub-basket, published in the report, broadband subscriptions cost less than 1% of average monthly income – and under 3% of average monthly income in a further 22 countries.

Here in Ukraine, for example, the figure was just 2.7% in 2009 – which is dramatically down from almost 10% in 2008.

At the other end of the scale, in the most expensive 28 countries in ITU’s list – most of which are UN-designated Least Developed Countries, LDCs – a monthly broadband subscription costs over 100% of average monthly income.

What a terrible irony that is!

The people who can least afford access to broadband are being asked to pay the most, relative to their income.

This is scandalous. But there are grounds for optimism, and broadband access is getting more affordable every year. Worldwide, broadband prices dropped by 42% between 2008 and 2009, and broadband became more affordable in almost every market across the globe last year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me turn now to the need for government leaders to promote broadband at the national level.

Broadband networks deliver benefits across society as a whole, delivering improvements in services and reductions in costs – particularly in sectors
such as healthcare, education, energy and transport.

This means that they can quickly pay for themselves. Indeed, estimates show that in most developed countries, cost savings of just 0.5% to 1.5% over ten years, in these four key sectors alone, can justify the entire cost of building national point-to-point, fibre optic networks.

Research also consistently shows that investment in any sort of ICTs has a direct positive effect on GDP growth, and that higher-end technologies, such as broadband networks, deliver the greatest benefits – with a 10% increase in broadband penetration able to boost GDP by an average of 1.3%.

This is why we launched our ‘Build on Broadband’ initiative earlier in the year, and why we are so proud to be playing a key leadership role in the ‘Broadband Commission for Digital Development’, which will deliver its report to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in just ten days, ahead of the 2010 MDG Summit in New York.

The Broadband Commission is co-chaired by President Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helú, Honorary Chair of the Carso Foundation. The Vice-Chairs are myself, and Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, and we have a total of over 50 very high-profile Commissioners from the public and private sectors.

Our Commissioners come from many different walks of life and many different backgrounds, but they all share a common vision: the desire to see the vast benefits of broadband brought to all the world’s people.

Together, we are determined to demonstrate broadband’s truly transformational nature.

Together, we believe we have a unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity to drive social and economic progress.

Distinguished guests,

What will these broadband networks of the future look like?

From an infrastructure perspective, it is certain that no single technology will be able to provide all the answers. Optical fibre is certainly desirable at the core of the Internet, and for the majority of backhaul traffic, to achieve a high-capacity backbone.

But at the edges of the network, and in particular in the hands of end-users, it seems likely that mobile devices will deliver the majority of broadband applications and services to most people.

Indeed, this is already the case, with nearly 900 million mobile broadband subscriptions forecast to be achieved globally in 2010 – even if many mobile broadband subscribers do not yet use their mobile devices for Internet access.

Depending on local conditions – such as geographic location, economic prosperity, etc – there is a role for a host of different technological solutions for providing broadband access: from cable to fixed wireless; from satellite to microwave; from xDSL to mobile technologies; and many more.

As a result, policy-makers should seek to adopt a technology-neutral approach, as they need to plan and accommodate new upgrades of current fixed and wireless technologies, as well as brand new technologies which do not yet exist.

Policy-makers also need to recognize that demand for radio-frequency spectrum is likely to grow rapidly – bearing in mind that as a precious resource, spectrum allocation must be based on costs, efficiency of use, and the needs of users.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before I close, I would like to say a few words about an event which is of great importance to us at ITU and which I believe will be of interest to many of you here in the room today; I refer to the forthcoming Plentipotentiary Conference, PP-10.

PP-10 will be the ITU’s 18th Plenipotentiary Conference, which will be hosted by Mexico in Guadalajara, from 4 to 22 October. The event is the ITU’s top policy-making body and is held every four years, setting out our general policies, adopting four-year strategic and financial plans, and electing our senior management team.

It is the key event at which ITU Member States decide on the future role of our organization. Because ICTs are now ubiquitous, this means that what we achieve at PP-10 will not just affect the future of ITU and ITU’s work: it will affect the lives of everybody on the planet.

Immediately after the Opening Ceremony of PP-10, we intend to organize a Special Session of Visionary Leaders which will focus on ‘Broadband for Digital Development’.

We will also be holding four side events during the second week of the conference which will focus on broadband, climate change, accessibility and cybersecurity.

I look forward very much to seeing the Ukrainian delegation in Guadalajara, and encourage you to visit the PP-10 website – which is well signposted on the ITU’s homepage – for further information ahead of the conference.

Thank you.