Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

Jawaharlal Nehru University

ICT in Global Development-International Perspective & Challenges

06 May 2013, New Delhi, India
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be here with you in New Delhi this morning – and it is a great privilege to be able to address you at this honourable and prestigious university.

Universities are an essential part of the fabric of all great nations, imparting the wisdom of past generations to the leaders of the future, and it seems more than appropriate here to quote from the great Jawaharlal Nehru himself:

  • “A University stands for humanism. For tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever-higher objectives. If the Universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the Nation and the People.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

This morning, as leader of the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies, 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.

I would like to discuss ’ICT in Global Development – International Perspective & Challenges’, because there is no question in my mind that ICTs are already a key driver of social and economic progress and will continue to play an ever more important role as we move forward.

I would also like to encourage this institution – and indeed many other Indian academic establishments – to come and join ITU and to play an active role in creating the bright new future of tomorrow.

Distinguished guests,

Connecting the unconnected is right at the heart of what ITU does, and is fully-consistent with the significant role we have played in enabling the Internet – through standards, spectrum, fibre optic networks, satellites and much more.

And we have made the most extraordinary progress in the first years of the new Millennium.

Back in the year 2000, around half the people in the world’s richest countries had a mobile phone, and mobile penetration in the Asia and Pacific region was just 6.4%.

Today, there are some 6.4 billion active mobile phone subscriptions globally, and mobile penetration in this region is now close to 90%.

And here in India of course you have one of the largest and fastest-growing ICT markets on the planet, with over 900 million active mobile cellular subscriptions, and some of the most affordable tariffs in the world for voice calls and text messages.

But we still have far to go.

Because while almost everyone now has access to mobile telephony, almost two thirds of the world’s people – some 4.5 billion people – still do not have access to the Internet.

This means that:

  • Almost two thirds of the world’s people are still locked out of the world’s biggest and most valuable library.
  • Almost two thirds of the world’s people are still unable to do business in the world’s biggest market place.
  • And almost two thirds of the world’s people are denied the opportunities which are now available to the other third.

There are those who would 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 this misses two important points:

  • Firstly, the Internet is not just about hi-tech. Instead, it is the biggest, broadest and best information resource in history.
  • And secondly, without broadband infrastructure – and without the power of large servers humming away in the background, and without big data storage capabilities, and without smart data mining and aggregation – we can achieve very little.

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 two years away.

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

Broadband 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, broadband will play a vital role in the 21st century, as water resources become more scarce, and much more valuable.

We will also see broadband helping drive the transition to a low carbon economy, and helping us better adapt to the effects of climate change, through smart grids; environmental sensors; intelligent transport systems; the dematerialization and digitalization of goods and services; and new ways of improving energy efficiency.

Broadband will not just help us address the biggest issues of our time, such as climate change and environmental sustainability; it will also 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.

This is why ITU and UNESCO set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010 – to advocate for increased broadband access and rollout globally; not just for its own sake, but to accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

We now have close to 60 Broadband Commissioners – all leaders in their field – representing governments, industry, academia and international agencies, and they are doing great work in advocating the importance of policy leadership.

Distinguished guests,

I would like to focus on two of areas where broadband will make the most difference in real people’s lives over the coming decade, and especially in the developing world – namely education and health.

Concerning education, it is interesting to note that while one of the Millennium Development Goals directly addresses education – Goal number 2, achieve universal primary education – education is nonetheless a huge positive influencer on most of the other MDGs as well.

You of course know this better than most, given that you are here at a world-class university.

But let’s face it:

  • We will not improve maternal health or reduce child mortality without education.
  • We will not achieve gender equality and empower women without education.
  • And we will not eradicate extreme poverty or combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases without education.

We are incredibly fortunate to be living in an era where all of these issues can be addressed – and this is very largely thanks to the very rapid spread of ICTs over the past decade or so.

ICTs have already transformed the way we look at education and learning, and this marks the biggest shift in the sector 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, I believe that we can expect to 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 don’t.

Think of the enormous implications of the fact that already today, all of the top ten universities in the world, ranked by the number of enrolled students, are in developing countries – and all of them offer distance learning.

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.

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

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 up.

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.

And that covers pretty much the entire list of MDGs!

We have a new report from the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Education which is entitled ‘Technology, Broadband and Education: Advancing the Education for All Agenda’.

This report was presented to the Broadband Commission’s meeting in Mexico in the middle of March, and highlights the importance of broadband as ‘the missing link’ in terms of global access to education.

In a world where over 60 million children of primary school age are not in school, the report is both timely and necessary, and endorses a number of strategies that governments and other stakeholders involved in education should embrace.

Broadband has the power not just to revolutionize education, but to bring it into the lives of everyone, no matter where they live and what their circumstances – and that is a noble goal that we can all work towards achieving.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Concerning health, I am personally convinced that a combination of education and technology will allow us to make huge advances in the provision of healthcare services worldwide – and especially in the developing world, where the gap between healthcare availability and healthcare provision still remains the widest.

We are already seeing the benefits that can be achieved with ICTs, in areas such as:

  • Access to health advice;
  • Training for healthcare workers, especially in remote areas;
  • Patient monitoring, patient information, and management of patient records;
  • Disease surveillance and data collection;
  • Telemedicine;
  • Transparency and accountability; and
  • Access to emergency services.

ICTs and especially broadband can do more than any other single tool to improve the provision and delivery of health services, and have the potential to save millions of lives a year.

As part of ITU’s partnership with WHO on the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health – which I am proud to co-Vice-Chair with Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO – we have been developing a new report on the use of ICTs for improving information and accountability, and let me strongly encourage you to make use of this report when it is published.

As smartphones become ever-more widespread in the developing world, we can also expect to see a corresponding increase in the number of healthcare apps being developed – and we are already seeing some remarkable progress in this area.

These apps can make a real difference on the ground – even when there is no Internet connection available.

To cite just one example among thousands, there is now a simple but revolutionary app that can be used to diagnose malaria on the spot. The app processes a picture taken by the phone of a blood sample; detects malaria parasites; quantifies how much malaria is in the sample; and even points out the parasites in the photo.

Once the data that is stored in the phone is uploaded online, it can then be used to spot and monitor disease trends, helping to play a vital role in prevention as well as in treatment.

Every week brings us fresh news of ingenious new apps which have very often been developed locally, to address local issues.

And the reason for this is that there is still one resource which is completely unlimited – on this resource-scarce planet of ours – and that is human brainpower.

We should never underestimate this.

Distinguished guests,

At the end of 2011, at the Broadband Leadership Summit in Geneva, the Broadband Commission set four ambitious but achievable broadband targets covering policy, affordability and uptake.

The first of these targets aims to help make broadband policy universal by 2015, and we have already seen considerable success in this regard, with 145 governments that have adopted or are planning to adopt a national policy, strategy or plan to promote broadband.

At current rates of progress it seems quite likely that we shall meet this target – although of course the policy target needs to be backed up with concrete action on the ground, in terms of delivering increased broadband infrastructure rollout and access.

But I am confident that we shall see enormous progress in the coming years, especially with rapidly-growing mobile broadband, and we are already seeing countries in this region and others making clear efforts to make broadband universal.

The other target I would like to draw your attention to concerns the affordability – or unaffordability – of broadband, which today is still the biggest challenge to increased broadband uptake globally.

Why do I say this?

Because while entry-level fixed broadband services cost less than 2% of monthly income in 49 mostly rich-word economies – and around 5.5% of monthly income here in India – it still costs more than half of monthly income in 30 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.

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

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me close by coming back to my first message, which is to encourage this fine institution, bearing as it does the honourable name of India’s first Prime Minister, to become an academic member of ITU.

And indeed let me spread the message further, and wider, and encourage many other great academic institutions here in India to join us at ITU – for our mutual benefit.

At ITU, we recognize the value of academia as a source of innovation, knowledge leadership and independent expert opinion – and this is of enormous benefit both to our Member States and to our Sector Members, from both developed and developing countries.

There are tremendous benefits for academia, too:

  • In leveraging your expertise and research to influence global decisions;
  • In contributing to the development of global best practices for policy and regulation, standards, and spectrum use;
  • In increasing the profile of your institution and your research;
  • And in helping you to secure new partners and funders.

I look forward to this university and others playing a new and enhanced role in our work, and encourage you to contact our membership services for more information.

Distinguished guests,

Let me close by saying that I am an optimist.

I firmly believe that in the next twenty years we will see the benefits of broadband become available to everyone, wherever they live, and whatever their circumstances.

I am convinced that 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.

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 together, right now!

Thank you.