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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

ATU High-level Ministerial Workshop

23 September 2010, Brazzaville, Congo


Broadband Commission for Digital Development


Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to address you once again today. In this session, I would like to share with you the latest developments related to the ITU/UNESCO initiative to set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, in particular aspects related to
e-education, capacity building and digital literacy.

The Commission first met in July in Geneva, led by the two co-Chairs: President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Mr Carlos Slim Helú, Chairman of Grupo Carso, Mexico. The Commission set about defining a vision for accelerating the deployment of broadband networks worldwide, with the aim of improving the delivery of services across a huge range of social and business sectors, and accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals — or MDGs.

Last Sunday, the Commission met again in New York and presented its final outcome report to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the eve of the UN MDG Summit. The report, which includes a High-level Declaration calling for ‘Broadband Inclusion for All’, comprises a detailed framework for broadband deployment and ten Action Points aimed at mobilizing all stakeholders and convincing government leaders to prioritize the roll-out of broadband networks to their citizens.

As I said in New York, broadband is certainly the next tipping point, the next truly transformational technology. It can generate jobs, drive growth and productivity, and underpin long-term economic competitiveness. It is also the most powerful tool that we have at our disposal in our race to meet the Millennium Development Goals, the deadline for which is now just five years away.

By the end of this year, ITU forecasts that we will have a total of 900 million mobile broadband subscriptions, with mobile broadband likely to be the access technology of choice for millions in the developing world. However, while 2G mobile cellular has been a runaway success in Africa, broadband uptake has been slow — one of the main reasons for which is affordability.

While many subscribers in the developed world spend two per cent or less of their monthly income for a high-speed broadband connection, in many of the world’s Least Developed Countries even a relatively slow broadband connection costs many times an average monthly salary. Thus, while an estimated 30 per cent of people in the highly ‘wired’ countries of Western Europe, Oceania and North America have a broadband subscription, in the BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — penetration is less than 10 per cent. But in the world’s poorest nations, broadband reaches less than 1 per cent of the population.
The good news is that the cost of broadband is falling sharply. Over the last year, we have seen a drop of around 42 per cent in broadband prices. This is a sign for an optimistic outlook for the accelerated roll-out of broadband infrastructure and services.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Without a doubt, broadband networks can deliver efficiencies across the breadth of the economy, bringing tangible benefits to governments and their citizens alike. Indeed, embracing broadband development will help drive growth and deliver benefits right across society and across every industry sector. I am absolutely certain that broadband networks will play a transformational role worldwide in the 21st century.

The starting point of all sustainable development efforts is education and literacy. Here lies the key to the future of Africa. What we deliver to our children in the coming years will affect the whole world. With broadband networks, we can better educate the next generations of children, wherever they live.

The World Summit on the Information recognized that “ICTs have enormous potential to expand access to quality education, to boost literacy and universal primary education, and to facilitate the learning process itself, thus laying the groundwork for the establishment of a fully inclusive and development-oriented Information Society and knowledge economy which respects cultural and linguistic diversity”.

Following WSIS, ITU and UNESCO were mandated to share joint responsibility to enhance capacity building and access to information and knowledge. The Broadband Commission aims to do just that while focusing on e-education, multilingualism and the dissemination of rich, locally developed media content.

Online education can make learning accessible to more young people and adults. At the same time, online education can ease the resource bottleneck in training teachers. ITU and UNESCO estimates suggest that as many as 10 million additional teachers will be needed globally by the 2015 MDG deadline.

At the heart of this endeavour lies the capacity to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and create information using digital technology. Digital literacy involves a working knowledge of ICTs and understanding how it can be used to communicate more efficiently. Building on the broadband platform, we can create the digital citizens of tomorrow.

I had spoken earlier today on ITU’s role in capacity building and digital inclusion. The ITU Academy portal and ITU Centres of Excellence as well as several ITU workshops are platforms for human capacity building and enhancing digital literacy.

A flagship project launched at the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Hyderabad, India is Connect a School, Connect a Community, a new public-private partnership effort to promote broadband school connectivity to serve both students and the communities in which they live.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Access to information and the sharing of knowledge empowers people to achieve their development aspirations and create unprecedented opportunities for positive change.

ICTs are the great enablers 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.

New convergent services and innovations with affordable access to IPTV, Triple Play and VoIP have stepped up demand from a growing consumer base, which can no longer be ignored by policy makers, service providers and the industry.

This convergence in technology has also generated a convergence of expectations in Africa — to fulfil the dream of stepping out at the same pace as the rest of the world and striving for positive change. The wealth of ingenuity and innovation among Africans has only fired that zeal.

So the moment is ripe for all of us — governments, Regulators, private sector and international organizations — to pull together to build our broadband infrastructure and seize the digital opportunities to make the African dream come true.

Thank you.