Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

   Global Inet 2012 

The Power of the Internet Today 

Opening Session  

23 April 2012, Geneva,  Switzerland

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you in Geneva this morning – and to be surrounded by such enthusiastic and influential supporters of the Internet, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Internet Society, ISOC.

After hearing about the past and the future of the Internet, I would like to say a few words about the present – and the role the Internet (and especially broadband) is already playing in making the world a better place; through accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, for example, as well as in other areas such as accountability and sustainability.

Indeed, connectivity is no longer a luxury but a necessity – and this is as true in the world’s poorest countries as it is here in Switzerland or in the United States.

E-Health, E-Education, E-Banking, Gender Empowerment and Youth Employment – these are the new opportunities for making our society fair and equitable.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We live in a world with more than six billion mobile cellular subscriptions, and where 2.4 billion people already use the Internet.

This global hyperconnectivity is already allowing us to leverage the power of technology – and especially mobile technologies – to make the world a better place.

We are seeing mobile devices and the Internet bringing people – and things – together in ways that we could never even have dreamed of just a decade or two ago.

On the socio-political level, the Internet is rapidly removing the barriers which once separated those with power from those without power – and this is as true for corporations and even individuals as it is for governments.

My message here today is that we need to embrace this new era of accountability as a good thing – because if we handle things right, it should be perfectly possible to respect the necessary boundaries of privacy and security, while still maintaining the right levels of transparency and accountability.

Already, we are seeing social media redefining the landscape we live in – and as people said during the wave of social protests last year, “we use FaceBook to mobilize; we use Twitter to report; and we use YouTube to broadcast.”

Of course with today’s speakers including Jimmy Wales, I should also have added that “we use Wikipedia to research and fact check.”

This is the first time in human history that almost everyone has access to the enabling power of technology.

It is the first time that they can put themselves on the map, or have a voice, in their own language.

It is the first time that they can become truly visible in their own right, bypassing the official narrative.

With quite remarkable speed – and for the first time – it has become impossible to be airbrushed out of history.

This dramatically affects the relationship between the governors and the governed; between the company and its customers; and even between husbands and wives; and parents and their children.

The democratization not just of communication, but of knowledge, is already having a very profound – and I believe beneficial – affect on our society.

For those in positions of power, they will need to recognize – and embrace – their new accountability.

For those who may once have been – or felt – powerless, they need to recognize that they are the new agents of change.

They also need to recognize that they have the responsibility to use that new-found influence carefully, and wisely.

Distinguished guests,

The rapid evolution of the Internet is also having a huge impact on the global economy, of course, with businesses increasingly moving online, and billions of dollars worth of online transactions taking place every week, or even every day.

We are witnessing the very rapid virtualization of many goods – from books and films to music and software. And while most physical goods are still being shipped into the real world, they are very often being ordered online.

Globally, manufacturing increasingly depends on the very short supply chain management processes that only the Internet can make possible.

We are also seeing unprecedented collaboration online when it comes to research and development.

We should not forget, however, that two thirds of the world’s people still do not have any access to the Internet, and that the number of people worldwide with broadband access is still relatively small – even with the very rapid growth of new technologies such as mobile broadband.

This means that we risk creating a world of Internet rich and Internet poor; a world where the new ‘broadband divide’ is even more worrying than the digital divide we had before ubiquitous mobile phones.

This is why ITU and UNESCO set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010 – to encourage the implementation of national broadband plans and to increase access to broadband-enabled applications and services.

Broadband is already radically transforming society and delivering sustainable social and economic progress – through an environment of constant innovation and a wealth of job creation opportunities.

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

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

Broadband is helping us address the biggest issues of our time – such as climate change and environmental sustainability – and it is revolutionizing the way goods and services are created, delivered and used. In an aging world the Elderlies and people with any kind of disability need to benefit the goodies of the Information Society to help improve their quality of life.

We must therefore work hard to ensure that everyone – wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances – has access to the benefits of broadband Internet.

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

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

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

This could never have happened without the Internet and convergence, which have brought two crucial new forces into 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 everyone, at any time, wherever they are.

So once more let me wish the Internet Society, ISOC, a very happy anniversary – and a very happy anniversary to all those who are making the Internet the most robust, adaptable and accessible global medium we have ever known for the positive transformation of peoples’ lives.

Thank you.