Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

South-South Breakfast

Investing in Broadband

22 September 2013, New York, USA

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you this morning, and let me thank my good friend Ambassador Francis Lorenzo, President of South-South News, for making this breakfast possible.

We are here this morning to discuss a very important topic – indeed an absolutely crucial topic: Investing in Broadband.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Over the past 20 years we have seen mobile cellular technology become nearly ubiquitous, with almost as many mobile subscriptions as there are people, and the vast majority of the world’s people now within reach of a mobile phone.

Where the picture is dramatically different, of course, is the Internet.

By the end of this year, according to ITU estimates, global Internet penetration will be approaching 40%.

But two thirds of people in the developing world will still be offline; and over 90% of people in the world’s least developed countries will still have no access to the Internet.

This is important, because in the 21st century, broadband has become essential infrastructure, just like roads, railways and power networks.

It is our duty to ensure that we bring the benefits of broadband to all the world’s people – wherever they live and whatever their means.

This is not about technology for technology’s sake; it’s about technology for educating people; it’s about technology for better health care; it’s about technology for gender empowerment; it’s about technology as the most incredible lever imaginable in terms of spurring on sustainable social and economic development.

This is truly the opportunity of a lifetime: an incredible opportunity to improve healthcare; to improve communities; and to improve schools.

In 2010, ITU and UNESCO set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development to help accelerate progress towards meeting the MDGs, and over the past three years the Commission has played a major role in advocating for broadband development and especially investment.

The Commission met yesterday for the launch of our latest report, ‘The State of Broadband 2013’, and the meeting had a special industry focus, looking at investment opportunities and strategies that will help to close the access gap.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As many of you will know, we are just back from the BYND 2015 Global Youth Summit, which was held in Costa Rica; this was a completely amazing event.

The Youth Declaration resulting from the Summit is a powerful statement from young people, and it is being taken by President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica to the General Assembly this week.

The Broadband Commission is proud of its role in making the Global Youth Summit happen: the Summit was inspired by the Broadband Commission Working Group on Youth and Broadband, which was proposed by Muhammad Yunus, and which I had the honour to chair.

The Summit demonstrated a new way of working, with a special role being played by connected youth around the world at over 40 networked hubs, and also reinforced the incredible power of social media in charting the way forward.

It is ironical, then, that this year was also notable for the publication of the Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons.

It was ironical, because an event as vibrant, powerful, innovative and influential as the Global Youth Summit could never have taken place without the power of broadband.

So I was personally somewhat disappointed by the UN report. The Broadband Commission published an Open Letter, emphasizing the importance of broadband, but in the end the report itself did not contain a single mention of the word ‘broadband’.

I feel this is a grave mistake – the equivalent would perhaps be publishing a report at the end of the nineteenth century without mentioning trade in manufactures or exports, or without mentioning the power of vital transport networks including roads, waterways and railways.

Broadband networks, the arteries of our digital economy, are today vital and indispensable to nations’ economic competitiveness. So we hope that the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons can take this message onboard.

The Broadband Commission’s Task Force on Sustainable Development continues to work actively in this regard, and also has a report that will be published this week, calling for ICTs to be a clear and important part of the post-2015 development agenda.

Distinguished guests,

I think we all recognize that the industry is at a critical juncture, trying to fund extremely expensive next-generation broadband networks, at a time of flat or even declining revenues.

So how do we close the investment gap?

Efforts such as the Broadband Commission have made an important difference, but much more still needs to be done.

What we need is investment on the ground. And not just any investment but smart, targeted, impact investments, where investment is leveraged to deliver far greater benefits than traditional financing models.

So let me close on a positive note:

We are living in an era of incredible progress, and we stand, as a global community, to reap incredible benefits from new technologies – new technologies such as mobile broadband, which is the fastest growing technology in human history.

If we add in the dramatic power of impact investing, I am certain that we are going to find ways of closing the investment gap – and bring the full benefits of social and economic development to all the world’s people.

Thank you.