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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

High-level Ministerial Forum

Opening Remarks

26 September 2011, Nairobi, Kenya

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for joining us for today’s High Level Ministerial Forum, which is jointly hosted by the Government of Kenya and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

It is a great honour for us to have the Government of Kenya taking a leadership role in this important meeting – and it is very pleasing to have with us today:
  • Samuel Poghisio, Kenya’s Minister of Information and Communications;
  • Bitange Ndemo, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communications;
  • Thomas Steltzer, UNDESA’s Assistant Secretary-General; and
  • Janis Karklins, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General.

Let me also take a moment here to congratulate the Chair of the Kenya Internet Governance steering committee, Alice Munyua, for her efforts in organizing this high-level Forum.

This Ministerial Forum provides a platform to discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by information and communications technologies – ICTs – in developing countries.

I have been very much involved in this on a personal level over the past month in particular, and just last week I was in New York for the UN General Assembly, and in Colombia for the Global Symposium for Regulators.

In New York I was pleased to be part of the discussion of the High Level Segment on non-communicable diseases.

At this event, and throughout the General Assembly itself, time and again the message came through loud and clear, from Margaret Chan, Director General of WHO, to President Obama, to Lance Armstrong:

We can and must leverage the power of technology – from SMS to the Internet – to help prevent the tens of millions of unnecessary deaths every year from non-communicable diseases.

At this Forum, here in Nairobi, a number of thematic areas have been suggested for discussion, including broadband and cloud computing; mobile Internet; and cybersecurity and privacy.

Let me therefore take this opportunity to highlight ITU’s efforts in some of these areas.

Concerning cloud computing, ITU understands and appreciates the benefits it could have in bringing affordable ICT services to the world, and we are increasingly active in this area.

Our Standardization Sector established a Focus Group on Cloud Computing in May 2010. This has the objective of collecting and documenting information and concepts that would be helpful for developing ITU Recommendations to support cloud computing services and applications from an ICT perspective. The Focus Group has held six meetings so far, and considered some 300 contributions from our membership.

Distinguished colleagues,

Let’s move on to broadband.

Over the past decade we have made astonishing progress in bringing the benefits of ICTs to most of the world’s people. There are now well over five billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide, and more than two billion people have access to the Internet. Mobile cellular penetration exceeds 100% in almost 100 countries.

Africa has been home to a great many success stories, too, and right here in Kenya, we saw mobile cellular penetration grow from just 13% in 2005 to over 60% by the end of 2010.

Kenya is also one of Africa’s fastest-growing Internet markets, surpassing 10 million Internet users at the end of last year – many of them connecting to the Internet over mobile networks – and giving Kenya an enviable Internet penetration rate of 26%, compared to the African average of just 11%.

It is no coincidence that Internet penetration rates have soared here at the same time as international Internet bandwidth has increased dramatically and prices for ICT services have decreased substantially.

Few people realize this, but 95% of international communications is now routed via submarine fibre-optic cables – standardized by ITU.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am often asked whether Internet access – and particularly broadband access – really matters, in a world where we still face enormous issues of poverty, lack of sanitation, food insecurity, and inadequate healthcare and education.

And I always give the same answer: yes, it most certainly does!

Because broadband is absolutely key to furthering social and economic development, and it will be vital in all countries in the 21st century in helping to deliver essential services such as health, education and good governance – as well as in helping to improve sustainability.

We therefore need to ensure that equitable, affordable access to broadband networks is brought within reach of all the world’s people.

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.

This is one of the key messages which came out of last week’s Global Symposium for Regulators, in Colombia.

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 earlier this month 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.

The need to bring affordable broadband to all the world’s people is why ITU, together with UNESCO, launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development last year.

The Broadband Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso, with myself and UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, serving as the co-vice-chairs.

There are more than 50 Broadband Commissioners, who are all top-level leaders in their field, representing governments, industry, academia and international agencies, and who are committed to seeing the Commission continue its activities right up to the 2015 target date for the MDGs.

And I am very happy to note that we have some of our Commissioners here today at this meeting. May I ask you to take this excellent opportunity to share your experiences with our colleagues and friends here today.

Distinguished colleagues,

In an increasingly interconnected, online world, we are also seeing increasing concerns in every region of the world about cybersecurity.

ITU’s concrete response – back in 2007 – was to launch the Global Cybersecurity Agenda, the GCA. The GCA is a global framework for international cooperation aimed at enhancing global public confidence and security in the use of ICTs, and is now in its operational phase.

I will look forward to saying more about the GCA, and the Child Online Protection initiative, COP, at the opening of the Internet Governance Forum tomorrow, knowing that many of you here today will be at that event.

I will just mention the fact that 136 countries – 50 of them in Africa – are now part of the ITU-IMPACT operational deployment, and that as of today, some 30 countries have been assessed and we are now moving to the implementation phase.

In particular, the ITU IMPACT Workshop on Cybersecurity readiness for the East Africa countries, held in Uganda in April last year, generated a very positive response in the region, and I would like to thank Kenya for coordinating this activity.

We look forward to partnering with Kenya and the other East Africa countries in the area of cybersecurity management, particularly in the establishment of a national Computer Incident Response Team (CIRT), which will allow Kenya and the other countries to maintaining round-the-clock vigilance to defend critical national infrastructure and assets against cyberattacks.

The same exercise has been undertaken in West and Central Africa, Asia Pacific, and East Europe, and is planned for Latin America and the Arab states over the next year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before I close, I would like to mention a very important event being held at the end of next year, at the request of our membership.

I am referring of course to the World Conference on International Telecommunications, WCIT, which will revise the current International Telecommunications Regulations, the ITRs, which were adopted 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 over the past 24 years, 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.

They also include the increasing convergence of technologies and services, which sometimes blur the traditional distinctions between telecoms and computer technology – and of course the distinctions between voice, video and data traffic.

In the second decade of the 21st century, we must keep the Internet open for business if we are to sustain growth in the massively inter-dependent global digital economy.

But the Internet is borderless and global, so some issues – such as security – are too big for individual nations to address alone.

On the other hand we must recognize that different countries have different approaches to issues such as privacy, censorship, and national security. In seeking consensus on international issues, we must respect individual Member State’s concerns.

We expect to discuss many topics at WCIT, including the themes of today’s high-level meeting.

And I think we all agree that there are tremendous advantages to international harmonization / international agreements, notably in terms of economies of scale and network externalities.

Through you, we urge our membership to continue contributing towards developing this global treaty to meet the needs of today and tomorrow.

Thank you.