For 145 years, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has been helping developed and developing countries with a host of communications issues. Its mission is to enable the growth and sustained development of telecommunications and information networks, and to facilitate universal access so that people everywhere can participate in, and benefit from, the emerging information society and global economy. Here, Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré shares his thoughts on the importance of broadband, the increasing threat of cyber crime, innovation driven by necessity, and how the private and public sectors can work together to create the knowledge society of the future.
The ITU is trying to help other sectors accelerate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals [editor's note: The MDGs were agreed by the UN in 2000] using information and communications technologies [ICT]. When the UN meets in New York in September, people will be saying that the MDGs are lagging on many targets and therefore we need to do something to accelerate them. ICT can help. The broadband initiative recognises the critical importance broadband networks will have in delivering the key services— communications, energy, transport, environmental protection, health care—on which all modern societies will depend.
In the 21st century, broadband networks are basically national infrastructures, just like transport, energy and water networks. Put simply, in the 21st century, the social and economic development of every nation will depend on ubiquitous and affordable broadband access. We have broadband access in many countries now and, unfortunately, there is a huge gap in terms of the coverage to monthly income ratio for a country. We want to make sure that national broadband networks deliver benefits across the whole of society, which will make them incredibly cost effective, especially when you look at the savings across multiple sectors. Recent research suggests that savings of less than 2% in key sectors over a 10-year period—or just 3% to 4% in health care alone—could cover the entire cost of rolling out advanced broadband networks to every home in developed countries. Countries need a national broadband vision that can be driven by leaders at the highest level. We have been encouraging political leaders around the world to have their political vision include this idea.
The ITU is only involved in the infrastructure part of the broadband initiative, but the content part is equally important. When you’re talking about broadband, you’re talking about the last stage where infrastructure meets content. Together with the Director General of UNESCO, I have launched a broadband commission on digital development, which will be cochaired by President Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim of Mexico. The president of UNESCO and I will be the two vice-chairs and the commission will comprise a range of leading figures from across the ICT industry and other key social and economic sectors, including education and culture, so that we can have a global framework to present to the UN Secretary-General in September.
Absolutely. That is exactly how Silicon Valley was created. Government has to push the first dollars into the right services and applications so that the private sector can grow. There’s no question about it. However, you need the regulatory framework; you need some government services that will be the catalyst to start services and get everything going; you need to develop content. When you’re talking about broadband, content is the driver. Governments have to be involved in stimulating content creation at the local level and can only do that through e-services, such as eHealth or e-education. Those will generate content.
It’s true that a growing number of countries are prioritising broadband now; that’s what we’ve been advocating. At the moment, few people have recognised the truly transformational power of these networks and that’s wherewe are concentrating. Most of the world still thinks of broadband as related to the speed at which we can surf the Web. But we are now talking about human-to-human communications, human-to-machine communications and machine-tomachine communications. That’s a very important change and therefore we need to have the right policy, regulatory framework and strategy as a catalyst.
Most countries leave broadband rollout to national communication ministries and market forces, but until these networks become ubiquitous and affordable, they will never deliver on their promises. I believe that broadband needs to move to the top of every country’s national agenda, with rollout actively promoted, just as the rollout of electricity networks was some 100 years ago.
We have encouraging signs. During the financial crisis many countries, including the United States, rolled out a national broadband plan. Twothirds of new jobs in the world have been created in the ICT sector over the past five years. This is another opportunity that broadband will create. That’s why we believe it’s timely for us to move in this direction.
Innovation is the key word here and the thing is that innovation is limitless. We’ve seen that it is driven by the human brain—and that power is unlimited.
This brings us to the next thing that you need for broadband plans to succeed. Not only good government policy and a regulatory framework, you need capacity building and education in that field. Some countries, like South Korea, have succeeded in putting the right framework in place for broadband, in educating industry players, engineers and marketing people as well as educating end users and government agencies. They have targeted specific layers of society—the elderly, women, the handicapped, children—and have been very successful. That’s why they’re number one in broadband today.
There are many. When we did the latest ICT index classification, we added education as a key element for comparing countries. Norway and Sweden come very high at the top of the index, and there are some developing countries like Rwanda that have also done marvellously well. In Rwanda, the Kigali Institute of Science & Technology was originally a military base that has been transformed by President Kagame into a university. Initiatives like this are very good examples of how people can invest in human power. Also in Rwanda, some of their citizens went to Silicon Valley and are now coming back home and creating their own businesses. This is what we need to do around the world.
The ITU's funding is generally seed funding, of which we have contributed more than US$10 million. We probably fund 10-20% of any project, bringing in the first dollars that are needed to attract other investors. We have a number of initiatives in the ITU because capacity building is one of the key programmes of our development sector. The ITU-D (the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector) is streamlining its extensive ICT skills development through ITU Academy initiatives. The vision of ITU Academy is to strength the human, institutional and organisational capacity of developing countries by making available ICT learning and development opportunities at the highest quality level possible. We have a network of more than 60 Centres of Excellence and ICT Internet Training Centres that deliver education. We’ve been very successful in providing continuing education to senior ICT managers in both public and private sectors, through face-to-face or distance learning. The centres also serve as regional focal points for professional development, research or knowledge sharing for specialised training or private company use.
Complementing the Centres of Excellence, our Internet Training Centre’s initiative is helping developing countries build their own pool of new economy professionals who will drive ongoing ICT growth at the top levels. One example is the Cisco Academies, which we have built together with Cisco in many countries. It’s been a tremendous partnership. We have over 80 ICT centres in more than 60 countries now, primarily in lessdeveloped countries. We’re trying to bridge the standardisation gap with rich, industrialised countries. I’m encouraging more and more developing countries to jump in and learn, to help them accelerate and make the right decisions at home.
I believe that cyber security is one of the greatest challenges that humanity is facing. Given the importance of our access to information and communication technology, the safety of our networks becomes a high priority. Cyber crime is on the rise and it’s placing a huge burden on governments and the industry alike. In fact, the CEO for McAfee recently estimated that cyber crime is worth over $100 billion annually, which is more than the total value of the global illegal trade in drugs. This emphasises how important cyber security is becoming.
I hope I’m wrong, but a next world war may well start on the Net, in cyberspace. Cyber war is not occurring right now, but some nation states are preparing themselves for it, and that’s unfortunate. Cyber threats can reach parts of a nation that physical threats cannot. Attacks on critical infrastructure can stall a country’s progress and quickly cause civil unrest. Cyberspace is driven by innovation and, unfortunately, the concept of a super power no longer exists in the way it did before; every individual on the planet can be a potential super power and can make an attack that can be lethal. Cyber threats have to be taken very seriously and that’s why we urgently need to put in place a platform for global cooperation and coordination.
In 2007, in my first year as Secretary- General, I put into place what I call the Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA). I had a team comprising the key cyber security experts from top companies around the world, both private and public sector, and they came out with a recommendation for five areas. One is a legal and regulatory framework, including the ethical side of cyber crime. We need to have a common understanding of those issues because, unfortunately, due to cultural differences, sometimes crime is defined differently in different countries. Second is the technical arena. Of course there are always technical tools to fight criminals, but criminals are using technical innovation to do more sophisticated crimes and that’s how cyber threat technology actually evolves; it’s the fight between good and evil. Fortunately, good always wins in the end, but we have to work very hard.
The third area is coordination at the national level. Cyber crime is an international issue but, at the national level, you can have many ministries dealing with it— the Ministries of Defence, Health, Education, Economy all have cyber threats and you don’t want them to be dealing with those threats alone. You want to do it in a coordinated manner, so we’re encouraging a national coordination of cyber security. The fourth key area is capacity-building on the technical, legal and ethical sides. The fifth area is international cooperation.
The international framework of cooperation is an opportunity for the ITU—with 191 member states and over 700 private companies. As host to the international discussions on this aspect, I’m finding areas where we can agree, recognising areas where we have different viewpoints and seeing how we can bring in all stakeholders together to move this agenda. We need to have a global cyber arms treaty one day and such a treaty will bring together not only governments but all stakeholders, including the private sector and civilians. A key issue is, are governments ready to sit around the same table with the private sector? That is the challenge that we are facing.
We’ve been talking about the potential of cyber wars and therefore we need to talk about the concept of cyber peace as well. A peace concept before a war is unusual, yes, but it needs the cooperation of all stakeholders. This is the biggest challenge we’re facing but it’s critical that we work together as nations to prevent a major attack, rather than waiting until it happens.
The worst computer virus so far was the ILOVEYOU worm, made by someone back in 2000 using a laptop that cost less than $1,000. That's scary, and the fact that we are giving access to the Internet to our children in the safety of their bedrooms or the safety of their classrooms, means we need to protect them. To me, children are our most common denominator, an area to start with. In 2008, I launched an initiative called COP, Child Online Protection, to bring all players together. A framework for cyber crime will help us to have an international framework where we can commit ourselves not to attack each other, commit our countries not to harbour terrorists, and commit to protect our citizens. These are the three prerequisites that we need in order to move this thing forward.
The first decade of the millennium was dominated by mobile growth, and we’re going to reach the five billion subscriber mark this year. Mobile has been a tremendous success. The second decade of the millennium will be dominated by broadband, not only fixed broadband but mobile broadband in particular. This is why the applications that we have seen in the health, banking and education sectors will be the killer applications of the next decade.
Take SMS messages. Last year, there were an incredible five trillion SMS messages sent globally, which means almost 10 million text messages being sent every single minute of every hour and every day. When we reach the five billion mobile subscription mark, around 20% of these will have broadband access. I’m talking about mobile penetration even in developing countries, which are often above 50% penetration now. The ubiquity of mobile devices around the globe today is opening up a whole new world of opportunities.
In the area of mobile health, we hear a great deal about how we will soon be able to use the latest smartphones to access all sorts of advanced health care applications. I was recently in Bangladesh where I saw applications at the Ministry of Health. One application was a remote diagnosis to a rural area from a medical doctor in the capital city who was linked up from Sydney. It was tremendously refreshing to see that developing countries are designing their own programmes successfully. Other examples include sending reminder messages to patient phones when they have a medical appointment or when they need a pre-natal check-up, or using SMS messages to deliver instructions on when and how to take complex medications such as anti-virals or vaccines. These are applications that will really help developing countries meet their MDGs.
In addition to the easy access, the affordability component of mobile is very important in health because you can have access to medical specialists without having to pay the costs of travel, without having to pay the cost of expensive facilities, without leaving your own town. These are tremendous benefits that eHealth will bring to the world.
Absolutely. Education is the bottom line. I always tell governments, don’t try to look for the direct financial profitability in education, you have to invest. In Senegal, President Wade has put one third of his national budget into education. I predict that Senegal will be the Singapore or the Korea of Africa in five years' time.
We need somewhere like that in Africa to drive this type of growth. The ITU has been working with many countries in Africa, because Africa is in need of help. We’re looking for leaders who have a clear vision of where they want to go and we will help them move in that direction by putting the right policy and regulatory framework in place. This is why we’ve seen tremendous growth in Africa over the past five years. In fact, in terms of mobile growth, Africa was number one for five years in a row. That’s good news. There would not be that type of growth without a good regulatory framework. Fortyfive of the 52 countries in Africa have independent regulatory authorities that are putting the right regulatory frameworks in place. They’re debating and exchanging views with the rest of the world. We are putting everyone on the same level. The issues that Africa is tackling are new to everyone: voice over IP, connectivity, interconnection, new services and applications. Africa is giving itself the rare opportunity to leapfrog and I believe that by putting the right capacity- building, education and investment in place, you will give the private sector opportunities to invest and make profits.
Instead of technology being one way—from developed countries into developing countries—we’re starting to see things like mobile banking originating in the developing world and being taken up by the developed world. Mobile banking is a great example of local solutions to local problems. People wanting to transfer small amounts of money, like $5, could not do that through the traditional banking system so they had to come up with a solution, and it works. This is creating the next generation of bank account holders. By transferring $5 by mobile phone periodically, you eventually reach $100 or $200, and then you may as well just go and open a bank account. That’s what is happening now and it has not been a threat to the banking industry.
There’s such a strong tradition of entrepreneurship in developing countries because people have had to come up with solutions to get around the problems they face. I think that technology is going to allow them to unleash that entrepreneurial spirit in a way that we haven’t seen yet.
ICT is an area where many developing countries will now start growing because it is not tied to aid. I have very strong views on aid. I’m not pro aid: I’m for good business environments and profit making. In ICT, we don’t need charity. This sector can grow if we have the right regulatory and policy framework. If an investor can make profit in a country, he will reinvest it and make more profit and in the process he will create jobs and develop new services and applications, and wealth will be created. That is what we’re looking for and the message appeals to politicians who see the next generation of their voters getting jobs and being happy, therefore it is a win for everybody.
I believe in the power of collaboration. Working together we can achieve so much and that’s one of the things that I’ve been advocating. Deployment of broadband networks will be a winner for governments, consumers, operators, manufacturers, software developers—everyone.
It’s important to note that the security threat should not overshadow the benefits of the cyber world. We cannot use cyber security as a means to cut off citizens from the Net. People have the right to communicate. It’s a basic human right. Every citizen of this planet has the right to access information, to use information, to create information and to share information. That’s the prerequisite for us to enter the knowledge society that we’re dreaming of now.
Dr. Hamadoun Touré is the Secretary-General of the ITU. Born in Mali in 1953, Dr. Touré holds advanced degrees in electrical engineering from universities in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
A veteran of the satellite industry, he spent many years with Intelsat, where he rose to the role of Group Director for Africa and the Middle East, before joining ICO Global Communications as African Regional General Manager. He became an elected official of the ITU in 1998, serving as Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau until 2006.
He was elected Secretary-General at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya, Turkey, in November 2006, and took office on 1 January 2007.
For more information, visit the organisation's website at www.itu.int.