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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

   ITU Regional Forum on Broadband

A Pillar for Social and Economic Development

Opening Speech


06 September 2012, Tirana, Albania

Your Excellency Sali Berisha, Prime Minister of the Republic  of Albania,
Your Excellency Genc Pollo, Minister for Innovation and ICT,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great honour to be here with you this morning in Tirana to open the ITU Regional Forum on Broadband: A Pillar for Social and Economic Development.

My pleasure to be here is twofold:
  • Firstly, because for many years broadband has been of growing strategic importance for the ICT sector – on the one hand gradually changing the ICT ecosystem itself, and on the other hand becoming one of the most important driving forces across every industry sector as well as daily life.
  •  Secondly, and more importantly, we are here today in a country that is highly committed to proving that broadband can help accelerate sustainable social and economic development.
I would therefore very much like to thank Prime Minister Berisha and Minister Pollo for inviting the European community here to Albania to discuss broadband at this forum.

Although this is my first visit to this fine country, I see that ICT growth here is very powerful, with Albania well ahead of many other countries at a similar level of development, and close to the European average both in terms of mobile cellular penetration – which has just surpassed 100% here in Albania – and Internet penetration, with more than half of the population now online, and every school in Albania now equipped with an computer lab connected to the Internet.

I would therefore like to congratulate the Albanian administration for its constant commitment towards building an inclusive information society – and to reiterate ITU’s commitment in supporting this undertaking.

Just this year, ITU has been closely working with the administration on a number of strategic projects which will help accelerate the development of the ICT sector, including Albania’s numbering system, spectrum monitoring, and of course broadband.

A new national broadband plan, fostering a multi-sectoral approach, has been jointly elaborated and forwarded for political endorsement – and I firmly believe that applying this approach will rapidly extend the rollout of broadband infrastructure and increase access to the Albanian population.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank to UNDP for co-financing this important meeting, and for its constant support of ICT-related activities. We are looking forward to future joint actions, such as the Joint Programme for Digital Albania, and which I am sure will become a new model for country assistance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The past twenty years has been an extraordinary time for the development of ICTs.

With the ‘mobile miracle’ we have brought ICTs and their benefits within reach of virtually all of the world’s people – in every continent and in every country.

The next crucial step, however – as I think we are all well aware, here in Tirana today – must be to replicate the mobile miracle for broadband, on a global basis.

However, let us make no mistake: broadband is not just about high-speed Internet connectivity and accessing more data, faster.

Broadband is a set of transformative technologies, which are fundamentally changing the way we live – and which can help ensure sustainable social and economic growth not just in the rich world, but in every country, rich and poor, developed and developing.

Broadband will change the world in a million ways, delivering both unexpected and unpredictable benefits – and I personally am looking forward to seeing how the world will be changed for the better not just in the ways we can predict, but in the ways we cannot predict.

For today, however, let me list just a few of the benefits that we can already be sure about:
  •  In a more populous, ageing world, broadband will help to deliver essential services such as health, education and good government.
  •  Broadband 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 in the digital economy.

Distinguished colleagues,

Concerning education, ICTs themselves are already acting as one of the main platforms for disseminating knowledge. 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’.

Over the coming years, we will see 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 do not.

Some of the biggest universities in the world today specialize in distance learning, and many of them are in developing countries.

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.

Broadband is also helping us accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals – for example through applications to help improve people’s lives and livelihoods, especially in rural and agricultural areas.

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.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Perhaps most importantly, broadband will help us manage the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy.

We live on a fragile planet – and humanity has not in the past been a very kind or gentle species when it comes to looking after our environment.

So now is the time to ‘get smart’ and to use the power of technology to help put things right – and to keep them that way.

As we saw at the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil in June, technology will be absolutely crucial in decoupling GDP growth from carbon emission growth, and replacing the energy-intensive physical infrastructure of the 20th century with the innovative, connected and information-based infrastructure of the 21st century.

In this context, broadband and ICTs will play a key role in moving the sustainable agenda forward, and in turning the agreements signed at Rio into actions and real transformation.

I was very pleased to see that the outcome document from Rio+20 explicitly recognized the contribution that broadband and ICTs make to sustainable development. This is the best indication we can have that we are succeeding in getting our message across, and in making policy makers understand that the ‘broadband bridge’ is an opportunity not to be missed.

It is great news is that a more sustainable future is already being created through the proliferation of ICTs and broadband – and it is great news that this was recognized by Rio+20.

This is why ITU set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, in conjunction with UNESCO, two years ago. The Commission advocates for the global rollout of broadband infrastructure and for the provision of equitable and affordable access to broadband for all the world’s people.

The Broadband Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim, President of the Carlos Slim Foundation. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, and myself serve as co-Vice-Chairs.

We now have almost 60 Broadband Commissioners – and indeed some of them are with us here today, including Minister Ivo Ivanovski from Macedonia and John Davies from Intel.

All of the Commissioners are leaders in their fields – representing governments, industry, academia and international agencies – and they are doing great work in advocating the importance of policy leadership.

Together, we are working hard to combine our advocacy work with research and analysis, providing concrete evidence of the tangible benefits of broadband – and I am pleased to announce in this regard that ITU and the Broadband Commission have recently launched a new series of case studies, which are available via the Commission’s website.

On the occasion of today’s meeting, of course, we have the launch of the Case Study on Albania, which has been elaborated in close collaboration with the Albanian administration, and which will be very useful in bringing the attention of the global community to ongoing efforts in broadband development.

Distinguished colleagues,

Before I close I would like to draw your attention to two very important ITU events taking place before the end of the year.

The first is ITU Telecom World 2012, which will be taking place in just a few weeks time, from 14 to 18 October, in Dubai.

Drawing on ITU’s unique reach as the lead UN agency for ICT issues, we will once again bring together the right mix of participants to debate the most important topics shaping the industry, and the world we live in.

This is really the way to raise awareness of the issues and opportunities the industry faces – without losing the open, fair and secure global communication system we have striven to build.

This year’s event will build on the successful format pioneered at ITU Telecom World 2011 last year, focusing on debate, networking and knowledge-exchange at the highest level – and I look forward very much to seeing you there.

The second event is the World Conference on International Telecommunications, WCIT-12, which is taking place in early December – also in Dubai – and which will look at ways of revising the International Telecommunication Regulations, the ITRs, which date back to 1988.

Unfortunately, there have been comments made in the public domain over the past months on a number of important issues around WCIT which have not on the whole been helpful in terms of clarifying the plain facts and the potential benefits we can hope to achieve.

So let me set the record straight: WCIT-12 is not about who governs or owns the Internet. It is about how we can best cooperate to ensure the free flow of information; the continued development of broadband; continuing investment in networks, services and applications; and continuing innovation.

I cannot imagine anyone who would disagree that the benefits of ICTs should be brought to all citizens of the world – but to do that, we will have to work together.

So the question before WCIT is therefore how can the ITRs best be adapted to facilitate the achievement of that goal.

I am therefore looking forward not just to discussions, but to finding agreements that enable more people to use more telecommunications, and agreements that enable more operators to roll out more infrastructure.

The 1988 ITRs set the stage for the information society. And I am absolutely convinced that 2012 will set the stage for the knowledge society.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In closing let me say how pleased I am – how pleased we all should be – that we are at the beginning of a journey towards an extraordinary new and sustainable 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.

Thank you.