Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

   Global Challenges and Smart E-Government Seminar

Global Challenges and the Broadband Commission


10 September 2012, Seoul, South Korea

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be here with you this morning at the Global Challenges and Smart e-Government Seminar here at the NIA building in Seoul.

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

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.

As a result, we find ourselves living in a world where there are now well over six billion mobile cellular subscriptions – and here in Korea, as in most other developed countries, and indeed many developing countries, we have mobile cellular penetration of well over 100%.

The next crucial step, however, must be to replicate the mobile miracle for broadband, on a global basis.

This may seem like an unusual thing to say, here in South Korea, where you already have the fastest, cheapest and most widespread broadband access in the world today.

But this is still very far from the case in most of the rest of the world.

Indeed, I am sorry to have to say that close to two thirds of the world’s people still have no access to the Internet at all – let alone a broadband connection.

This, we must change!

Because 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 has already changed the lives of everyone here in South Korea, and with international cooperation, and through the work of international organizations such as ITU, I firmly believe that it will change the lives of everyone on the planet.

Indeed, broadband will change everything – in so many new ways.

Some of these we can predict, but most of the changes will come as a complete surprise to us.

I say this, because this is what all transformative technologies do.

Take the harnessing of electrical power, for example. This was initially intended to provide services such as electrical lighting – but quickly led to the unexpected building of skyscrapers, made possible with electrically-powered elevators.

The harnessing of electricity also led to the invention of dozens of different sorts of labour-saving devices which we now take for granted – from washing machines and fridges to hairdryers and toasters, and of course computers and phones too.

So I am confident that broadband, too, will deliver unexpected and unpredictable benefits.

Time alone will tell what these benefits will be – but in the meantime let me list just a few of the benefits I think we can already be quite sure about:
  • In a more populous, ageing world, broadband will help to deliver essential services such as health, education and good government. Indeed broadband will be instrumental in delivering e-health, e-education and e-government.
  • Broadband will also 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 continue to be created, delivered and used in the global digital economy.

Mobile phones already play a key role in healthcare programmes in a growing number of countries around the world, and I believe that the proliferation of smartphones, connected to broadband infrastructure, will see progress in this area accelerate rapidly in the coming years.

If smartphone uptake in sub-Saharan Africa happens as quickly as the uptake of simple mobile phones – and if anything I believe it will happen even more quickly – then we will see smartphone penetration reach 40% or 50% in Africa within five years.

Imagine that!

What was until quite recently the most unwired continent on earth will still be unwired – but it will be connected, with half a billion smartphones!

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, the MDGs – 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 am pleased to see that the outcome document from Rio+20 explicitly recognized the contribution that broadband and ICTs make to sustainable development.

It is great news 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.

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

Similar principles apply to smart water management and distribution, and here too, broadband will play a vital role in the 21st century, as water resources become more scarce, and much more valuable than they were in the past.

This is why so much of ITU’s work today focuses on enabling the proliferation of broadband technologies – through our work in radiocommunications, satellite communications, telecommunications standardization, and policy and regulatory advocacy, among other areas.

And this is why ITU created the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, in conjunction with UNESCO, two years ago.

The Broadband 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 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, including of course Dr Kim Seang-tae, President of the NIA here in Korea.

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.

In just two weeks we will be holding the Broadband Commission’s 6th meeting, in New York, and we will be using the occasion to publish a new report, entitled ‘The State of Broadband 2012’, which we will be presenting to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, ahead of the opening of the UN General Assembly.

Distinguished colleagues,

It is surprising to me, in the second decade of the 21st century – and I am sure it comes as a surprise to hyperconnected citizens such as yourselves here in South Korea – that there are still people who argue that we do not need high-end technology to solve the world’s most pressing issues.

These people argue that issues such as hunger and poverty can be addressed by having enough people willing to help, and through the use of simple technology, such as 2G mobile phones.

But I am sure that you would agree that without the broadband infrastructure humming away in the background, and without the power of large servers and big data storage capabilities, we cannot achieve very much at all.

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 equally true for other enabling applications such as mobile banking, distance learning, or smart government.

So let me close this morning by saying how pleased I am that Korea has already made this tremendous leap into the future, setting a fine example for other countries around the world.

We are at the beginning of a journey towards an extraordinary new and sustainable life for all the world’s people; 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.