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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

Arab ICT Organization
International Forum on ‘Technological Convergence and Mobile Applications’

17 January 2011, Muscat, Oman

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you in Oman this afternoon.

The theme of this Forum – ‘Technological convergence and mobile applications’ – is particularly appropriate as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.

Because the complex, digital world we inhabit today is nothing like the simple analogue world of the past; the old world of posts and telecommunications.

Today, the boundaries between infrastructure and content have converged, and in many cases have virtually disappeared.

Traffic across networks – both fixed and mobile – is now fully-digital, blurring any distinctions there might once have been between voice, data and video.

And mobile has become the key global communications technology, with over five billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide and more than a billion mobile broadband subscriptions.

Over the past decade, we have seen information and communication technologies become ubiquitous and pervasive, and we have seen their influence spread into all domains of human activity.

Indeed, it would be fair to say that we have seen a paradigm shift away from the idea of ICTs as a luxury, to ICTs as essential drivers of social and economic progress.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This has enormous and far-reaching implications for my organization, ITU – which as you know is the United Nations’ specialized agency responsible for ICT development worldwide.

Last October, ITU held its 18th Plenipotentiary Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was the occasion for our membership – now standing at 192 Member States, with the recent addition of Timor Leste – to set out the priorities for the Union for the forthcoming four years, and to ensure that ITU remains relevant, right at the heart of the ICT sector.

It was very interesting to see that the need to prioritize and roll out broadband infrastructure was mentioned in the overwhelming majority of policy statements made by Member States – and I will come back to the importance of broadband in a moment.

Our membership took a number of significant decisions and passed many important resolutions, concerning – among other issues:
  • Accessibility;
  • ICTs and climate change;
  • Strengthening ITU’s regional presence;
  • Measures to help prevent the illicit use and abuse of telecommunication networks;
  • Conformance and interoperability;
  • Emergency communications and humanitarian assistance;
  • The admission of Sector Members from developing countries;
  • Bridging the standardization gap;
  • Opening up the way for the participation of academia in the Union’s work;
  • Special measures to assist Small Island Developing States and Landlocked Developing Countries; and
  • Electronic meetings.

Membership also passed a number of key Resolutions on Internet issues, which strengthens and underlines ITU’s commitment to work with the Internet community in extending the benefits of the Internet to all global citizens.

And last but not least, our membership made a tremendous step forward in granting Palestine enhanced rights of participation as an observer in future ITU meetings and conferences.

All of this means that we will have a very busy four years ahead of us at ITU, and we will be looking to organizations such as AICTO to continue supporting us in their own work – as indeed they have done over the past years.

In particular, concerning this region, I would like right away to extend an invitation to you to participate in the ‘Connect Arab States Summit’, which will be held from 28 to 30 November 2011, in Doha, Qatar.

This Summit will build on the hugely successful ITU Connect events which were held in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2007 and in Minsk, Belarus, in 2009. It will play an important catalytic role in helping to connect the unconnected – a task which of course is as close to your hearts as it is to mine.

Distinguished colleagues,

I mentioned broadband a few moments ago, and said I would return to the subject.

As I said, it became clear during PP-10 in Mexico that around the world government leaders have now recognized the over-arching importance of broadband. Broadband will not just help us in advancing social and economic development, but it will also help accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and the WSIS targets, which are now just a few years away.

Widespread deployment of broadband infrastructure brings with it the possibility of making the world a better and more equitable place. It will transform the way – and reduce the costs – of providing healthcare, education, public transportation, and government services.

Mobile will be absolutely key to broadband rollout, especially in emerging economies and the developing world, where the costs of fixed-line infrastructure, especially to the last mile, are prohibitive.

And indeed this is why we are seeing such spectacular growth in mobile broadband, with the number of subscriptions globally surpassing one billion today, having come close to doubling during 2010 alone.

Again, this brings us back to the theme of this forum, which is ‘Technological convergence and mobile applications’. The coming years will see not just extraordinary efforts and investments made in fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure, but also in mobile applications which take advantage of this.

Look, for example, at the incredible popular success of mobile banking, which barely existed just a few years ago, and yet which has transformed economies and benefitted the lives of millions of people – notably in Kenya.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Nobody can deny the enormous benefits and transformative power of broadband networks, but if the Internet is to become a ubiquitous resource globally, two things will need to change.

Firstly, all governments will need to raise broadband to the top of the development agenda.

This is why ITU, in conjunction with UNESCO, launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development last year.

The Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso, and we have some 50 Commissioners from the highest walks of life across the public and private sectors.

We have already been very successful in raising the issue at the highest political levels – including at the 2010 MDG Summit, which was held in New York last September.

And we are planning a Global Broadband Summit to be held in Geneva in October, in conjunction with ITU Telecom World’s 40th anniversary edition – which I strongly encourage you to attend.

Secondly, we need to ensure that Internet access – and especially broadband access – becomes very much more affordable than it is today.

This depends primarily on effective policy and regulatory frameworks being in place. And we had many interesting discussions on this subject last November, at the Global Symposium for Regulators, which was held in Dakar, Senegal.

Affordability is dramatically improved when competitive forces are brought to bear, and when there are clear incentives to increase capacity.

There are still many countries today where broadband access is prohibitively expensive, and I am sorry to report that on the whole it is in the world’s most disadvantaged countries that prices are highest – in both relative and absolute terms.

There are, however, clear grounds for optimism, as broadband is becoming more affordable year-by-year, as competition increases, and as long-term investments in fibre backhaul come on stream.

So let me ask you – over the course of this forum, and through the year ahead – to do everything in your power to raise awareness about the importance of broadband, and to help replicate the mobile miracle of the past decade, which has already done so much to help connect the world.

Thank you.