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​Telcel Infinitum Aldea Digital : Closing Keynote Address

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

Broadband as a Catalyst Delivering Better Health and Education for All

26 April 2014, Mexico City, Mexico

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be here with you in Mexico City this afternoon – and let me congratulate you on the really fantastic Aldea Digital project.

I was really impressed with last year’s edition, and this year’s edition has been even better – embracing an even larger community of experts and amateurs to foster digital education and culture here in Mexico.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The key message that comes from initiatives such as Aldea Digital is the importance of digital inclusion for all in the 21st century, and I would like to show you a very short video demonstrating that.

[Digital Inclusion for All video:]

Thank you.

Digital inclusion means getting people connected – and I must say Mexico is making great progress in this regard, expanding the benefits of ICTs across this great country, making services more affordable, and building out extra network capacity.

This is not just about connectivity, of course; it’s about what we can do with that connectivity – and today I would like to focus on two of the most important uses for that connectivity, which are improving the delivery of education and healthcare.

In a nutshell, 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, many of which focus in one way or another on education and healthcare.

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.

The Broadband Commission is fortunate in counting several members who are influential in this region, including of course our co-chair, Carlos Slim, as well as Luis Alberto Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank.

Our Commissioners also include César Alierta, the CEO of Telefonica, and Denis O’Brien, the founder of Digicel, both of which are very active in this region.

Distinguished guests,

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.

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 – thanks to the rapid spread of ICTs.

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’, and which have remained remarkably true to that tradition over centuries.

Over the coming years, however, I think that we will see a remarkable proliferation of learning from a ‘pull’ perspective, rather than the traditional ‘push’ perspective, as a new generation of digital natives decides what they want to learn, and go online to get it.

New, online educational establishments right across the developing world will cater person-to-person for those who live close to schools and universities, and online for those who don’t.

This has been made possible by ICTs and in particular broadband, which have brought two crucial new forces to play: the death of distance, and the democratization of information and knowledge.

And really 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 almost the whole list of the MDGs!

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:

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 was proud to co-Vice-Chair with Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO – we developed a new report on the use of ICTs for improving information and accountability.

And 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. 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 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,

Earlier this month, we held the World Telecommunication Development Conference, WTDC-14, in Dubai, with the theme of ‘Broadband for Sustainable Development’.

Participants reaffirmed that the establishment of transparent legal and regulatory frameworks is indispensable to stimulate investment, and agreed that digital inclusion was a leading priority for policy makers in the years ahead.

The key outcomes of WTDC-14 are the adoption of the Dubai Action Plan, the Dubai Declaration, the ITU Development Sector’s contribution to ITU’s Strategic Plan, and the adoption of 45 resolutions.

The Dubai Action Plan, in particular, is a comprehensive package that promotes the equitable, affordable, inclusive and sustainable development of ICT networks, applications and services.

Let me also say a few words about the importance of ‘smart’ regulation, and draw your attention to the Global Symposium for Regulators, which will be taking place in Bahrain in early June, with the theme: ‘Capitalizing on the potential of the digital world’.

The event will focus on encouraging broadband deployment and improved access, and on bringing the benefits of the digital world to all citizens in an informed, responsive and safe manner.

Governments are making continuous efforts across the globe, and particularly here in Mexico, to bring ICTs to all; to spearhead innovation and investment; and to protect the rights of users by encouraging the development of modern and innovative regulatory tools.

ICT regulators recognize that in such a fast-changing, cross-sectoral and dynamic environment, 4th generation regulation is essential. Forward-looking and targeted regulation will address regulatory concerns throughout the ICT value chain – including networks, services and applications – and will foster competitiveness, consumer protection and innovation.

In a digital world, the role of the ICT regulator is evolving to encourage the development of services which will potentially bring significant economic and social benefits to drive digital communications forward and to facilitate the inclusion of all in a digital environment – something we can all aspire to.

Finally, next year, as some of you may know, marks the 150th anniversary of ITU, and – if I am not too late, and the dates are not already fixed – it would be fantastic if Aldea Digital 2015 could be timed to coincide with the global celebrations that will be taking place around the world on 17 May next year, in commemoration of the founding of ITU in 1865.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me close these remarks with a few words aimed at the next generation – because I have absolute confidence that it is this next generation, the generation of digital natives, that will do more than any previous generation in making the fully-connected world a reality.

This is particularly true here in Mexico, where half the population is under 26 years old, and where you have the undoubted advantages of a strong common cultural and linguistic heritage.

At ITU we have been working hard to ensure that young people have a voice, and last September we held the Global Youth Summit – BYND 2015 – in Costa Rica, which allowed youth to develop a manifesto which was taken by President Laura Chinchilla to the UN General Assembly.

Let me therefore close with another video – this time showing the closing declaration of BYND 2015 – and let me encourage each and every one of you, and especially the youngest ones amongst you, to continue making the world a better place for all.

[BYND2015 video:]

Thank you for your attention.