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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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


Mobile World Congress (MWC 2012): Huawei broadway Forum

The Importance of Broadband in Social and Economic Development

27 February 2012, Barcelona, Spain

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be here with you in Barcelona this afternoon, and to have this opportunity to discuss with you the importance of broadband in social and economic development.

The past twenty years has been an extraordinary time for the development of information and communication technologies, and with the ‘mobile miracle’ we have brought the benefits of ICTs within reach of virtually all the world’s people.

It is now time to make the next step, and to ensure that everyone – wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances – has access to the benefits of broadband.

In the 21st century broadband networks must be considered as basic infrastructure, just like roads, railways, water and power networks.

Most importantly, broadband will help us accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, now only just three years away.

In a more populous, ageing world, broadband will be vital in helping to deliver essential services such as health, education and good government.

It will help us address the biggest issues of our time – such as climate change and environmental sustainability – and it will revolutionize the way goods and services are created, delivered and used.

Already we are seeing mobile phones playing a key role in healthcare programmes in a growing number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Asia-Pacific – where they can be used to deliver everything from simple SMS reminders for vaccinations or anti-retroviral treatments, to grassroots information gathering on demographics and diseases, to mobile information repositories for personal health records.

With smartphones becoming ever more widespread, new apps are now being developed by the thousand to help deliver healthcare to those who cannot easily be reached by medical specialists.

More advanced applications, such as 3D computer tomography, will soon allow for non-invasive internal examinations and diagnosis, while advanced data mining techniques will allow rare and unusual medical conditions to be more quickly and effectively diagnosed and treated.

Concerning education, ICTs themselves are already acting as one of the main platforms for disseminating knowledge, and this marks perhaps the biggest shift in education since the founding of the first great ancient higher-learning institutions, which essentially depended on the model of ‘lecturer’ and ‘lectured-to’.

What we can expect to see, over the coming years, is an explosion of excellence in home-grown educational establishments right across the developing world, which will cater person-to-person for those who live close to schools and universities, and online for those who don’t.

Some of the biggest universities in the world today specialize in distance learning, and many of them are in developing countries. They include the Indira Gandhi National Open University in New Delhi, India, with 3.5 million students and the Allama Iqbal Open University in Islamabad, Pakistan, with 1.8 million students.

Today, seventeen of the top twenty universities in the world, ranked by the number of enrolled students, are in developing countries – including Argentina, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Romania, Thailand and Turkey – and each establishment has more than 300,000 students enrolled.

This could never have happened without ICTs and broadband, which have brought two crucial new forces to play: the death of distance, and the democratization of information and knowledge.

This is the true beauty of the Internet – it finally makes the world’s riches accessible to all.

Through various projects around the world, including ITU’s Connect a School, Connect a Community initiative, computers and the Internet are being brought for the first time to people both of school age and within the community as a whole.

Children who are introduced at a young age to the vast realm of knowledge that the Internet offers will expect to stay connected as they grow.

And better educated adults not only have more manageable-sized families, but their children have significantly improved survival rates, and better chances of an education, basic health care and stable, better-paid employment.

Even simple devices like an ordinary mobile phone can have a profoundly transformational effect.

Distinguished colleagues,

The innovative use of ICTs will also play a crucial role in ensuring the world’s seven billion people have affordable and equitable access to adequate food supplies, at every step of the process: from delivering the right information to farmers; to helping them improve yields and prices; to improving supply chain efficiencies; to ensuring that consumers understand nutritional needs, both for themselves and for their children.

Today 40-50% of all food ready for harvest in the United States never gets eaten, and in many developing countries, post-harvest losses of food grains can reach as high as 50%. With broadband we can do much more to reduce this wastage.

Similar principles apply to smart water management and distribution, and here too, ICTs will play a vital role in the 21st century, as water resources become more scarce, and much more valuable. This applies to remote sensing, weather forecast and soil moisture level measurements, etc.

ICTs will play a critical role in helping create a more sustainable world in the 21st century.

Through smart grids, environmental sensors, intelligent transport systems, dematerialization and digitalization of goods and services, and new ways of improving energy efficiency, we can help drive the transition to a low carbon economy, while better adapting to the effects of climate change.

With political will, a strong social conscience, and a profound desire to fulfil a humanist mandate, we are fully capable of making the world a better place for all – and I am absolutely confident that together, by leveraging the power of broadband, we shall do so.

In 2010 ITU, in conjunction with UNESCO, launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development – to encourage governments to implement national broadband plans and increase access to broadband applications and services.

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

ITU, together with WHO, also launched the Commission on Information and Accountability for Woman and Children Health, co-chaired by Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper and President of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last October, at the Broadband Leadership Summit, held in Geneva in conjunction with the ITU Telecom World 2011 event, the Broadband Commission set ambitious but achievable targets for broadband development, focusing on policy, affordability and uptake, in an attempt to ensure that we avoid creating a world of broadband rich and broadband poor.

We will measure progress annually and publish country rankings to quantify and evaluate broadband progress around the globe – the first report will be issued at the Broadband Commission’s meeting this year in September in New York.

Since the creation of the Broadband Commission, we have seen broadband successfully pushed to the top of the political agenda around the world – and I am delighted to report that broadband is becoming more widespread and more affordable everywhere.

And I am looking forward to seeing a world where we have successfully replicated the mobile miracle of the past decade for broadband.

A world where individuals rich and poor can be connected to the global knowledge society.

A world where what matters is human ingenuity, not simply where you were born, or how wealthy your parents were.

A broadband world – that offers sustainable social and economic development for all.

Thank you.