Committed to connecting the world


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

Global Symposium for Regulators 2011

'Smart Regulation for a Broadband World'

21 September 2011, Armenia City, Colombia

Distinguished guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the Presidential Segment of this year’s Global Symposium for Regulators.

The question I would like to answer is ‘What is the future of ICT and broadband for all?’

Let me start by saying that we already live in a world where ICTs are transforming the way each and every person on the planet lives, works and plays. ICTs are transforming the provision of healthcare and education; the delivery of essential services; and the way we interact with the world and with each other.

We now need to bring the benefits of the broadband revolution to everyone – wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. Broadband is the most powerful tool we have to accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, and to drive social and economic progress on a global scale.

Massively increased access to the Internet – and broadband in particular – will allow us to deliver more effective healthcare. Better education. Environmental sustainability. More efficient transportation services. Smarter and more economical energy supplies. And a whole raft of new applications and services – such as mobile banking, for example.

This is why it is my firm belief that in the 21st century, broadband networks will come to be considered basic infrastructure, like roads, water or energy networks today.

While I am convinced that broadband will go the way of mobile cellular telephony, and become virtually ubiquitous in the next decade or so, it is important to recognize that we are still very far from that – with two thirds of the world’s people still offline.

This will only change when broadband becomes more affordable – and that will only happen through a combination of increased capacity, and increased competition.

This is where the GSR can play an important role.

We have all seen how high prices – and in particular high roaming rates – inhibit access to ICT services, and this issue must be addressed by regulators, urgently, and on a continuing basis.

Regulators can make a real difference, because affordability is dramatically improved when competitive forces are brought to bear – and also of course when there are clear incentives to increase capacity.

I am happy to report that there is some good progress being made, with increasing affordability in almost all markets worldwide.

Fixed broadband Internet prices globally, for example, dropped 52% between 2008 and 2010 – according to the latest data published by ITU just last week in our new report ‘Measuring the Information Society 2011’.

But the sorry truth is that broadband access still costs more than half of average monthly income in some 32 countries worldwide.

This is simply not good enough, in the 21st century.

In truth, we need to see broadband Internet prices coming down below 10% or even 5% of monthly income before we can expect to have everyone online.

And we will need to see ever-smarter regulation, too.

Part of this bigger, smarter picture – embodied here in Colombia with the GSR – is the World Conference on International Telecommunications, WCIT, which is taking place at the end of next year, at the request of ITU’s membership.

The conference will look at ways to revise the current International Telecommunications Regulations, the ITRs, which were adopted over 20 years ago, in 1988.

The ITRs served us well – particularly by facilitating the liberalization of telecommunications services – but there is general agreement that they now need to be updated to reflect the significant changes that have taken place in the ICT sector so that they reflect the realities of the modern world.

Back in 1988, the three key pillars underpinning telecoms were time, distance, and location. These have all become almost entirely irrelevant in terms of global telecoms services.

Changes in the landscape also include the liberalization and privatization of much of the telecommunications sector since 1988, and also the increasing convergence of technologies and services, and voice, data and video.

ITU’s members don’t want heavy-handed regulation, and a return to the old days of accounting rates and government-controlled telecommunications. But we do want harmonization and agreement between members. There is clearly a need for coordination and consolidation between agencies at both the national and international levels.

Some of our members have raised the concern that Internet governance is an issue that affects us all, and therefore an issue that should be discussed at the multi-stakeholder level.

As a result, there has been speculation in some quarters that ITU, or the United Nations, wants to take control – or try to take control – of the Internet.

And that simply isn’t true.

WCIT needs to find win-win solutions for the future development of the whole ICT sector, recognizing that effective ICT development depends – of course – on the right policy and regulatory environment being in place, and on effective regulation once that environment is established.

Distinguished colleagues,

Before I close, let me add a few words on why the Broadband Commission for Digital Development is important and how it fits into the broader picture.

In fact we all know how important broadband is. As a result, in order to encourage governments to implement national broadband plans and increase access to broadband applications and services, we launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development last year, in conjunction with UNESCO.

The Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso. We have over 50 Broadband Commissioners – all top-level leaders in their field – representing governments, industry, academia and international agencies.

It is a real pleasure to have one of our Commissioners – Orlando Ayala, Corporate Vice President, Chairman Emerging Markets, and Chief Advisor to the COO, Microsoft – here on this panel this morning.

The Broadband Commissioners have defined 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 also of course to help accelerate progress towards the MDGs.

The next meeting of the Commission will be held in a few weeks in Geneva, along with a Broadband Leadership Summit, and I would hope that the output of this year’s GSR – the ‘Best practice guidelines’ – will be an important input to that Summit.

This will all be taking place under the umbrella of ITU Telecom World 2011 – and let me encourage you to come to Geneva to help shape what will certainly be a unique event.

With the world ever more dependent on ICTs to address global challenges, ITU Telecom World 2011 will continue to benefit from a 40-year history of international reach, and the ability to convene leading players from government and industry, but it has also been strategically repositioned, in line with the changing needs of the industry as a whole.

There will be a strong focus on networking and knowledge-sharing, enabling delegates to connect, discuss and collaborate in finding real-life solutions to real-world issues.

This will make ITU Telecom World 2011 'big' in many ways – we'll be covering big issues; engaging in big conversations, taking big decisions, hearing from big thinkers, exerting a big influence and having a big impact.

It will be a crucial platform for shaping the future of the ICT sector – and in today’s world that means shaping the future of every sector of the global economy.

Returning to the GSR, and smart regulation for broadband, let me make just one last important point:
  • For the broadband sector, good regulation delivers predictability and stability, and it reduces risk. It encourages investment in infrastructure and rewards competition and innovative business models. At the same time, it protects consumers, by delivering a transparent market place and a fair system for resolving disputes.

I think that’s a noble and an important goal – and one we can all agree to pursue.

Thank you.