Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

Columbia University Institute for Tele-Information (CITI) 
 State of Telecom Conference
Keynote Speech 
26 September 2013, New York, USA



Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you here this afternoon at Columbia University for the annual ‘State of Telecom’ Conference.

Exactly a year ago I was here at the 2012 State of Telecom Conference – and many of you were here too – and I told you that ITU was not about to take over the Internet.

And here I am a year later, saying: ‘And guess what? We didn’t!’

And yet there are still some people who don’t even want me or the ITU to use the ‘I’ word.

But how can we not use the ‘I’ word in a converged world?

The two worlds co-exist and we can’t get away from that. Even if we wanted to.

Connectivity today doesn’t just mean making phone calls but also means exchanging data and video – and using the power of the online world to bring education and healthcare services to the world’s poorest people?

Using the power of the Internet.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The subject of today’s ‘State of Telecom’ is ‘ Can Broadband Networks Handle Cloud-Based Video Media?’

But let’s just stand back for a minute.

Because for so many people in the world today, that question makes no sense at all.

Because for them, there are no broadband networks.

And there is no cloud.

It’s very easy, here in high-tech Columbia University, in ultra-connected New York City, to forget that as we come into 2014, two thirds of people in developing countries will still be offline, with no access to the Internet at all.

The picture is even worse when you look at the 49 UN-designated least developed countries, the LDCs.

The LDCs are home to some 890 million people – and 818 million of them will still be without any form of Internet access at the beginning of 2014.

I think we all recognize the importance of broadband infrastructure in the 21st century.

So it surely must be our duty to ensure that we bring the benefits of broadband to all the world’s people – wherever they live and whatever their means.

Once people are online it will be interesting to see what it is they actually want from the Internet – and personally I am not convinced that it will be mainly video, especially in the world’s poorest countries.

Indeed it is my hope that connectivity – and the power of the cloud – will be used to deliver health, education, and other socially-valuable services all of which can be enhanced with video.

Distinguished guests,

At ITU we are working across the whole organization to help bring all of the world’s people online – and also to improve the online experience for those who are already there.

In terms of connecting the world, our Development Sector, ITU-D, does excellent work in providing assistance to developing countries, and in particular in capacity building and in helping countries adopt regulatory frameworks that will help increase infrastructure rollout and user access to networks.

In terms of improving the user experience – and the possibility for users to get online in the first place – the work done by our Radiocommunication Sector, BR, is invaluable: in ensuring that global spectrum is appropriately allocated (and where appropriate re-farmed) and coordinated, and of course in terms of satellite coordination as well.

And in terms of making the infrastructure work better, we can all thank our Telecommunication Standardization Sector, TSB – for example in making sure that network infrastructure can work together seamlessly, and in areas such as standardizing compression technologies. Indeed, the most recently-agreed compression standards from ITU will mean that users will only need half the current bandwidth to download the same content.

Ladies and gentlemen,

On a broader policy level, ITU has been active in advocating increased global broadband rollout, in order to help accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, the MDGs.

On this front we teamed up with UNESCO in 2010 to create the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, and I am glad to see a number of Broadband Commissioners here with us this afternoon.

Over the past three years we have been working hard to raise awareness of this crucial development issue, and the Commission met here in New York on Saturday to launch this year’s ‘State of Broadband’ report, which also includes the latest country rankings in terms of broadband accessibility and use.

This meeting very much reflected one of the hot topics this week in New York.

In the General Assembly, as well as in many side events – including the Mashable Social Good Summit, and the Clinton Global Initiative – there was widespread agreement that technology accelerates development; and that ICTs must be at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda.

Three other important ICT stakeholders have also been at the top of the agenda this week: gender, youth, and persons with disabilities.

I think we all agree that the full inclusion of women and girls in the digital economy will be absolutely crucial for sustainable social and economic development on a global basis.

I was very glad to see the Broadband Commission adopt a specific gender target – to achieve gender equality in terms of broadband access by 2020 – and I was pleased to see the latest Broadband Commission publication on gender being released last Saturday.

Concerning youth, many of you know that just two weeks ago we held the BYND 2015 Global Youth Summit in Costa Rica. The BYND Youth Declaration is a powerful statement from young people demanding that their voice be heard, and that they have equitable and universal access to ICTs.

The Declaration was tabled by President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica to the General Assembly this week.

The focus of the high level segment of the GA this week was disabilities and development. We were pleased to participate in the debate and highlight the role that ICTs can play to include persons with disabilities in all aspects of society. You will recall that accessibility was one of the key provisions of the new ITRs.

Distinguished guests,

Over the next decade, I am convinced that we will indeed find ourselves living in a fully-connected world; a world in which broadband networks are ubiquitous.

This will be driven by rapid and continuous technological progress, and by investment from the private sector.

Just to give you one example, mobile broadband has become the fastest growing technology in human history.

It took 125 years to reach the first billion fixed line phones, but just nine years to reach the first billion mobile broadband subscriptions.

We never got to the second billion fixed line phones – and I don’t imagine we ever will – but it only took another two years to reach the second billion mobile broadband subscriptions.

As the world becomes increasingly connected, and interconnected, and as more and more of the world’s information and knowledge finds its way into the realms of bits and bytes – and very often borderless bits and bytes – we need to be sure that we have trust and confidence in the online world.

This brings us back to the United Nations core mission of peace, human rights and security.

In the 21st century, of course, security is not just a physical world issue, but a virtual world issue too.

Security means not just ensuring that the online world is safe and secure, but also that freedom and privacy are ensured and protected.

We need to reduce the risks posed by the illicit use of ICTs as much as possible – with a forward-looking vision and, most importantly, in a multilateral but also multi-stakeholder fashion.

This means working together with intergovernmental bodies and ensuring the active participation of other stakeholders such as local and regional bodies, as well as civil society organizations.

Good progress is being made, with initiatives such as ITU-IMPACT, which has now been formally endorsed by 145 countries, and Child Online Protection, which has now reached a very wide audience and has a growing number of partners.

Personally, I believe that in the fullness of time a global framework on governing cyberspace is possible –with the full participation of governments, the private sector and civil society.

To get there, we need to continue to improve coordination and collaboration – and of course trust – between all the different stakeholders.

This is something that we do well at ITU – and this year’s World Telecommunication Policy Forum, WTPF-13, was a great example of this.

The WTPF was convened at the request of our membership to discuss International Internet-related public policy matters.

The output of the WTPF, achieved through multi-stakeholder consensus, provided guidance for ITU as well as other stakeholders in such important areas as: IXPs; an enabling environment for broadband connectivity; IPv4 and IPv6; multi-stakeholderism; and enhanced cooperation.

It was so impressive to see all stakeholders coming together at WTPF and working in such a positive spirit of collaboration.

I am proud that ITU continues to play its part to champion multi-stakeholderism and to use its convening power to facilitate constructive dialogue.

On the basis of the success of WTPF-13, I have launched a series of informal consultations – called ‘Open Talks’ – on Internet-related public policy issues, including the role of governments in the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance.

We recognize that not everyone may have the opportunity to easily participate in discussions at ITU, which is why I constantly seek different means to reach out and engage all those whose ideas could make a difference.

No one person, group or institution, and no country has a monopoly over good ideas – and as history has reminded us time and again, the brightest minds can be found anywhere.

If international policy-making is to be effective, it is clear to me that the diverse views of all constituents must be taken into account when making these policies.

This is particularly true when it comes to international Internet-related public policy issues as it directly impacts how we manage a vital global resource.

In closing, I believe the key is engagement without confrontation – and this is the path towards building trust and confidence across the whole of society.

Thank you.