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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

Achieving Ubiquitous Broadband Networks

22 February 2010, Manama, Bahrain



Cloud of Words: broadband, national access, mobile, decade, networks, increase, penetration,...


Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here in Bahrain today, and to be able to take part in this conference.

Bahrain is of course itself one of the world’s greatest ICT success stories – with mobile cellular penetration already close to 200% a year ago, at the beginning of 2009, and over 80% of households with a computer.

Even a year ago – we are still compiling the full-year data for 2009 – over half the population was using the Internet, and fixed broadband penetration was the highest in the region.

Key to this success has been the regulatory environment, and I would like to congratulate the network of regulators in the region for their fine work in creating a positive environment for ICT development.

A personal thank you must also go to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain – both for its part in Bahrain’s successes, and for  organizing and hosting this broadband conference here in Manama.

Distinguished guests,

The timing for this event is perfect.

We are at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, and I am absolutely convinced that this will be the decade of broadband.

Without question, the past decade was the decade of mobile. By the end of this year, 2010, we will see the number of mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide surpass the five billion mark – having reached the first billion in 2002, the second in 2005, the third in early 2007 and the fourth in late 2008.

Internet access has come hot on the heels of mobile, and within the next year or so there will be over two billion people on the planet using the internet.

As mobile devices become smarter and cheaper, and as internet bandwidth increases, and access costs fall, we will see more and more people accessing web-based services wherever and whenever they want.

We will no longer be stuck at our desks but being where we are most comfortable – in whichever room in the house, out in the fields, on trains and planes and in cars, with our friends, or alone looking up at the night sky.

We will be as connected as we want to be.

Today, however – at any rate for the vast majority of the world’s people – this is just a vision, and not a reality.

The internet may now be used by around a quarter of the world’s people, but that means three quarters still do not have access to the wealth of information and services which can be found online.

And when you look at broadband, the situation is even more dramatic – especially in the developing world, where access is still very limited, and usually extremely expensive, especially in terms of local salaries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I see this as perhaps the greatest opportunity we have ever known for human progress.

Because we have within our grasp both the power and the means to deliver broadband access to everyone.

Affordable, equitable access to ubiquitous broadband networks.

This is vital, because broadband networks are going to play an absolutely transformational role in every country on earth in the 21st century – much as the advent of transport, power or water networks transformed human life in past centuries.

Embracing broadband development will help drive growth and deliver benefits right across society and right across every industry sector.

National broadband networks deliver efficiencies across huge swathes of the economy and deliver benefits to governments and their citizens alike.

So what does this mean?

It means that that broadband needs to move off the telecoms agenda and onto the national agenda.

And that means national broadband network rollout becomes economically viable – for two main reasons.

Firstly, research consistently shows that investment in any sort of information and communication technology – ICTs – has a direct positive effect on GDP growth. Interestingly, higher-end technologies – such as broadband networks – have been shown to deliver the greatest benefits.

A 10% increase in fixed line teledensity seems to increase GDP by around 0.5%. The same increase in mobile teledensity increases GDP by some 0.7 percentage points. And a 10% increase in broadband penetration can boost GDP by an average of 1.3%.

Distinguished guests,

The second reason is even more powerful than the first: broadband networks very quickly pay for themselves through the benefits delivered across society as a whole.

This makes them incredibly cost-effective – since broadband network rollout can effectively be financed by innovation and cost-savings in sectors such as health, education, energy and transport.

Recent estimates show that in some countries, cost savings of just 0.5% to 1.5% over ten years, in these four key sectors, could justify the cost of building national point-to-point, fibre optic networks."

If we recognize that broadband networks deliver benefits at a national level, however, then we must also recognize that strong national policies will be needed to get other sectors involved in planning – and paying for – broadband infrastructure.

This vision needs to be driven by leaders at the very highest level – presidents and prime ministers for example – who have the national interests at heart and don’t work within any individual sector.

This applies just as much to developing countries as it does to developed ones – with a clear need for: national broadband strategies and policies; meaningful broadband targets and goals; and putting in place the necessary incentives to achieve rapid broadband deployment.

We know this works.

At the turn of the millennium, the Republic of Korea  had a broadband penetration of just 1%. To drive take-up, the government launched Cyber Korea 21, a programme offering affordable IT education to marginalized groups like housewives, the elderly, and the disabled.

Complementing this, Korea embarked on a wide-ranging e-government programme, investing US$24 billion in a national fibre backbone that provides more than 28,000 government departments and agencies with fast broadband access.

Today, Korea is one of the world’s most advanced broadband markets – demonstrating the power of political will in bringing broadband to the people.

I am pleased to see that the Arab world has also recognized this tremendous opportunity, and that broadband is one of the five regional initiatives proposed by the Arab region for discussion at the ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Conference in Hyderabad in May.

Many countries across the region have already initiated their own national broadband development programmes, including our host, Bahrain, as well as Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE among others.

The region’s commitment to broadband is reinforced by the ‘dot arab’ top level domain name project which has been entrusted to ITU by the League of Arab States, and which will help further internationalize the internet.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Broadband is a true enabler – and unfortunately the opposite will also be true in the 21st century.

Without broadband networks, governments won’t be able to solve the problems of getting health care to ageing or isolated populations.

They won’t be able to support tomorrow’s pressing educational needs.

They won’t be able to streamline traffic networks, deliver efficient government services or use and control energy supplies to their best advantage.

And they won’t be able to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

So we have no choice: this decade must be the decade of broadband.

This is why ITU has launched its ‘Build on Broadband’ initiative: because if you build on broadband, everything else will follow.

I myself am proud to be an optimist – and I firmly believe that we will see extraordinary success stories around the world during this decade.

We will see broadband successes in rich countries and poor, in developed and developing nations.

And we will see broadband successes wherever we find human ingenuity and the will to build a better world.

A world built on broadband.

Thank you.