Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

University of Belgrade

The Future of Broadband   

04 April 2012, Belgrade, Serbia

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen

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

As leader of the International Telecommunication Union, I would like to share with you my passion to ‘Connect the World’ – and in particular to ensure that the digital divide is not allowed to become a broadband divide.

In particular I would like to discuss the future of broadband and its vital role in sustainable social and economic development, and also to say a few words about the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

When you leave here today, I would like you go out and become ‘broadband ambassadors’ – ready to go out into the world and spread the important message about how broadband will create positive transformations in the lives of everyone on this planet.

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.

But I believe that the next twenty years will be even more dramatic – as the benefits of broadband become available to everyone, wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances.

This is not just about connectivity for connectivity’s sake – or even about having access to the undoubted benefits of social communications.

It is about leveraging the power of connected technologies – and especially mobile technologies – to make the world a better place.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Broadband will change the world in a million ways – and as it does so, it 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.

We are already seeing this with the extraordinary wealth of apps – increasing by tens of thousands every day – which are available for mobile devices.

Already we are seeing mobile phones playing a key role in healthcare programmes in a growing number of countries around the world, and notably 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.

Distinguished guests,

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. These 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 of school age as well as to communities 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.

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.

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.

ICTs will also 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.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There are those who argue that we do not need high-end technology at all to solve the world’s most pressing issues – such as hunger and poverty – and that these can be addressed by having enough people willing to help, and through the use of simple technology, such as 2G mobile phones.

But without the broadband infrastructure humming away in the background, and without the power of large servers and big data storage capabilities, we can achieve very little.

SMS messages to remote and rural patients only work if there is a proper broadband network – and powerful computers – running in the background.

The same is true for enabling applications such as mobile banking, which is proving so successful in many parts of the developing world.

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 to 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 almost 60 Broadband Commissioners – all top-level leaders in their field – representing governments, industry, academia and international agencies.

Many of you will be aware that we have just come from the Broadband Commission’s fifth meeting, which was held not far south of here, on the shores of Lake Ohrid, in Macedonia.

We were honoured at that meeting to welcome Her Excellency Jasna Matić, Serbia’s State Secretary for the Digital Agenda, as a new Commissioner.

Last October, at the Broadband Leadership Summit in Geneva, we set ambitious – but achievable – broadband targets covering policy, affordability and uptake.

Of these, the most important in my view concerns affordability – or unaffordability – which today is still the biggest challenge to increased broadband uptake globally.

Why do I say this?

Because while broadband services cost less than 2% of monthly income in 49 mostly rich-word economies, it still costs more than half of monthly income in 32 developing countries.

The Broadband Commission’s goal is to see broadband services cost under 5% of monthly income in every country in the world, by 2015.

With the help of enlightened regulation, increased user demand, and new technologies – such as mobile broadband – I am confident that we will succeed.

And I am very pleased at this point to note that the affordability message is one which Serbia has very clearly received and understood.

Serbia recorded one of the most dramatic changes in broadband affordability in the world between 2008 and 2010, as reported in ITU’s ‘Measuring the Information Society 2011’ report.

Access to entry-level broadband services in Serbia cost just over 3% of average monthly income, by 2010, down from over 6% two years earlier, bringing it well within the targets set by the Broadband Commission – and well within the reach of most households in this fine country.

Distinguished guests,

I was asked to speak this afternoon about ‘The Future of Broadband’ – but perhaps it would be better to say ‘The Future is Broadband’.

We are at the beginning of a journey towards an extraordinary new world – a broadband world.

A broadband world – where individuals rich and poor are connected to the global knowledge society.

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

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

So let us embark on that journey together and start building that broadband world, right now.

Thank you.