Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for your kind introduction and warm welcome. Allow me to also express my sincere appreciation to Dr. Toure and his very able team at the International Telecommunications Union for the organization of this side event on such a crucial topic. I also would like to thank all of you for your participation in this event, which will take a constructive look at one of the top priority issues for the group of 48 Least Developed Countries.
Over the next few days we will have an opportunity to take stock on the progress achieved, share best practices and improve on our efforts to assist the LDCs achieve their development goals. It is my belief that the thrust of our discussions today should be to consider how to concretely extend the benefits of the digital revolution to the LDCs to ensure their sustainable socio-economic development.
As many of you may recall, the World Summit on the Information Society, held in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005, linked information and communication technology with human development and called on Member States to build a global “inclusive, people-centred and development-oriented information society” through the sharing of information and knowledge. The WSIS Declaration of Principles also highlighted the case for special attention to particular groups of countries.
Today communities living in remote areas have access to the vast wealth of global knowledge through ICTs, and in particular the benefits of broadband technology extend to almost everything from power networks to healthcare, education, government services and financial markets. This is why it is important for today’s leaders to consider broadband as a basic natural infrastructure for social and economic development in the Least Developed Countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
High speed networks drive growth and productivity, generates jobs and underpin long term economic competitiveness. I am pleased to inform you that since the advent of the Brussels Programme of Action (BPoA) in 2001, the use of ICTs in the world’s 48 least developed countries has risen significantly, especially in mobile telephony and high speed internet access. Mobile communication in LDCs raised from 2% in 2003 to 20% in 2008, reducing the gap vis-à-vis the world average from 1:13 to 1:3.
That having been said, there is an existing broadband divide between the rest of the world and the LDCs that needs to be addressed.
The reality is that while there has been a significant growth in broadband development, the LDCs are often constrained by high initial pricing accesses which are way above averages, lack of infrastructure, limited human capital, a weak private sector and a paucity of public sector resources. Furthermore, there is a significant gap in terms of broadband speed. LDCs broadband connections are still slow compared to broadband connections in developed and other developing countries. Achieving more widespread deployment of broadband backbones and access networks in remote and less densely populated areas is a particular challenge, which deserves our attention.
Although capacity building in the ICT sector is needed at national and regional level, expectations need a dose of pragmatism. There will be situations where fibre optic is not practical at the moment, and where it may be more realistic to bridge the gap with various fixed wireless solutions. Increased deployment can be facilitated by the adoption of a universal access and service policy that complements a national broadband policy aimed at creating an enabling environment. Governments might require operators to make specific minimum speeds available to households or provide subsidies or other incentives using universal access and service funds to operators for rolling out broadband infrastructure.
In my capacity as Secretary-General of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, I should mention that I am encouraged by the increased emphasis among policy-makers on ICT for development. Two main plans of action define ICT activities in Africa, namely, the Africa’s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action which proposes a regional process promoting the role of science and technology to support social and economic development in Africa, and the African Regional Action Plan on Knowledge Economy aiming at building a continent fully benefiting from ICT services.
I should also mention that initiatives such as the creation of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development steered by the ITU and UNESCO and the e-MDG Center formulated by the UN Global Alliance for ICT are indeed testament to the commitment of ensuring that poor countries are not left alone in the pursuit of their development goals. The onus is now on us to ensure that guidelines, policies and strategies arising from initiatives address the particular challenges facing the LDCs.
I am sure we all agree that in the 21st century affordable, and ubiquitous broadband networks are critical to social and economic prosperity as are other networks like transport, water and power.
The Fourth UN Conference on LDCs is be one of the biggest and most comprehensive development conferences of this new decade. The new Programme of Action will determine the development paradigm for years to come. The key objectives for the next ten years must include some ambitious targets on ICTs. My office has proposed to create a Science and Technology Bank for LDCs to facilitate LDCs’ access to technologies and technological know-how. This would provide access especially to critical technology in agriculture, renewable energy, infrastructure, ecosystems management, water supply, and health, and would also help to overcome the digital divide. This Science and Technology Bank for LDCs would facilitate access to essential technologies on concessional terms to the LDCs by providing not only cheaper access to patented technology, but also information about adequate technologies for LDCs.
The international community recognizes the ‘power-to-unlock’ which comes with ICTs and innovation which should be highlighted in the next Programme of Action for LDCs, and the potential of these technologies to accelerate the achievement of the MDGs and other internally-agreed development goals and key knowledge society priorities such as those of the WSIS by 2015, in the context of the new digital realities and opportunities of the networked society and economy.
Therefore, a multi-stakeholder approach is needed and private sector participation is critical. Policy-makers need to engage with industry and investors to promote policy objectives more broadly and attract domestic and foreign investment into the ICT sector. Global solidarity and commitment was felt necessary for achieving the goals of Programme of Action by due date. Multi-stakeholder platforms/initiatives, like Connect the World, may help to mobilize the financial, human and technical resources for addressing development challenges with the use of ICTs.
Another challenging task is to develop appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks that will facilitate the realization of the full benefits of ICT network and service development and the achievement of public interest goals. In many LDCs, policy changes are required. These changes should seek to provide regulators with powers, flexibility and tools to implement a transition path to a new framework of regulation that facilitates new network development opportunities that is fuelled by increased investor financial flows into the sector.
The importance of ICT for development in LDCs has been stated, however financing models for implementation of ICT projects still remains as an urgent necessity to ensure sustainability in mid and long term. Sustainable use of ICTs needs to be considered so that it does not pose threats to health and the environment, in particular when the equipment reaches its end of life. Appropriate e-waste management measures such as recycling, re-use and proper disposal mechanisms are needed in partnership with the international community.
Intellectual Property to include issues of patents should contribute to the overall access to technology by LDCs. Measures should be taken to ensure that preferential and differential treatments are put in place in favor of LDCs.
In addition to the public sector, financing of ICT infrastructure by the private sector plays an important role in many countries and that domestic financing is being augmented by North-South and South-South Cooperation.
There is also a need to ensure full compliance with the multilateral commitments in the area of technology transfer to LDCs. Enhanced support is not only required from traditional development partners, but the potential of South-South cooperation in facilitating technology catch-up should also be exploited. It is important to fully operationalize the Digital Solidarity Fund as one of the means to reduce the digital divide.
I would like to conclude by saying that I am confident that this event will provide fresh and innovative ideas which will help guide our deliberations. We need to set ambitious and specific targets in the area of ICTs development in the LDCs because Broadband is a basic natural infrastructure for social and economic development in most societies and has shown to be a catalytic force in multiplying the delivery of internationally agreed upon development goals.
I thank you for your kind attention and wish you all fruitful deliberations.