Posts tagged Broadband

Opening Remarks on the ITU/CTO Broadband Forum

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you.

I welcome all of you at this forum, in particular our overseas delegates.

We are here today to discuss what would seem to be a very technical topic: the development of a broadband infrastructure for our region. But I would like to speak in human terms, because the broadband infrastructure that we must develop is for people, the people of our region.

In countries such as ours, increased broadband penetration is included among the Millennium Development Goals, which are benchmarks for policy makers and international civil servants. But we must remember that the MDGs are intended to help people live fuller, richer, healthier lives; to help people rise above the limitations that nature would impose; to unleash every human being’s potential; and to give each person greater control over his or her future.

In the final analysis , the technology will be judged not by its bandwidth and gigabytes, but by the outcomes it produces for people. We will be successful if we keep our focus on people. We will be successful if we empower our people.

The Goals are simple and sensible. They call for making broadband policy universal, making broadband affordable, connecting homes to broadband, and getting people online. The MDG goals of getting people online means Internet-user penetration of 60% worldwide, 50% in developing countries, and 15% in LDCs by 2015.

We have our work cut out for us.

West Africa is already on the way to making broadband a reality for its people. The Africa Coast to Europe—or ACE—submarine communications cable, running from France to South Africa—is already a reality, a 17,000 kilometer-long fiber-optic cable that will connect 23 countries.

We have a good start here in the South Pacific, because the Southern Cross Cable has a terminus in Fiji. This is one of the reasons why the Bainimarama Government is eager to make Fiji the hub for a region-wide broadband system. The Southern Cross Cable is here, and we believe we have the infrastructure to support it for the benefit of all of us in the region. We are the first country in the South Pacific to develop a national broadband policy. We are in the process of rationalizing our spectrum holdings to redress the mismanagement of the past and respond to the changing needs of the future. And we are also in the process of digitizing our television, which we expect to complete by 2014. So this broadband project on which we have embarked as a region is a high priority for us because we benefit greatly when our neighbors advance with us.

We are nations spread across many islands, with broad expanses of ocean that separate our people internally as well as separating us from each other. Our challenge is in many ways greater than West Africa’s. But our imperative is also greater. For small countries distributed among such a vast area, a common regulatory regime and a shared commitment to security, accessibility and quality can give us greater control over our destiny.

But broadband is not a miracle that will transform the region by itself. It is a tool, a vehicle for delivering information—information that only the human mind can create, discover, or transform. We have to be prepared to use this vehicle to great advantage.

The power of broadband to deliver voice, data and video at the same time opens new worlds of opportunity. It has great potential for education, medicine, public health, government services, agriculture and the environment. But we still need to have doctors, teachers, civil servants, farmers and scientists—and ordinary citizens, who are prepared to take advantage of it.

The proliferation of hand-held mobile devices is one of the driving forces behind the demand for broadband. A schoolchild can hold in her hand more computing power than an entire PC had a generation ago or an entire mainframe computer two generations ago. And children appear to be born with an inherent ability to understand these devices. They learn the language of these devices as easily as they learn foreign languages. So imagine the potential for schools.

In the United States and other developed countries, farmers can monitor commodity prices from the cabs of their tractors or combines. Why shouldn’t our farmers and other businessmen have the same ability as their counterparts in North America, or Europe, or Australia?

It was not so long ago in this part of the world that a person on a remote island would die of something curable before she could reach a doctor. Today, doctors anywhere can consult with experts across the world and share charts and images. This can save lives in our countries.

And, of course, broadband is a catalyst for economic growth. A World Bank study claims that a 10% increase in broadband penetration in developing countries contributed 1.38% to economic growth over the study period, and many experts think that figure is low. The World Bank also estimated in 2009 that each 10% increase in broadband penetration added 2.5% to GDP growth in China and 3.25 to GDP growth in the Caribbean and Latin America.

However, ladies and gentlemen, seldom does an opportunity come that doesn’t bring challenges with it, and broadband does challenge us.

We will have to provide high-quality content, and we will need to meet the expectations of a citizenry that is increasingly well informed and increasingly accustomed to receiving information at the speed of light.

Indeed, the democratization of an electronic, online world—that is, the ability of people to create new content, define new needs, and drive new technology—has been one of the most powerful forces of our time. So as we accept the challenge of meeting the potential of the system we put into place, we need to pay close attention to people. We need to embrace not only the power of governments and businesses, but also that of individuals, to take us in the right direction. If we listen to the people, we will be able to develop applications for local needs.

If broadband is to fulfill its promise of democratizing access to information and harnessing the creative energies of the people, then it needs to be accessible and affordable. When governments provide the proper incentives and regulatory regime, then the private sector must come on board. In Fiji, we realized that broadband connection through smartphones was the quickest way to provide accessibility. So we reduced the duty on smartphones from 32% to 5%. This puts more affordable devices directly in people’s hands. It benefits the service providers, the government, and, of course, the people.

In Fiji, the Bainimarama Government believes that Fijians—all Fijians—have the experiences, ideas, and wisdom that can lead our nation to a more prosperous and inclusive future, characterized by greater equality of opportunity than ever before. The Republic of Fiji has just embarked on a project to develop a new constitution. To do so, we have formed a Constitutional Commission that is charged with holding consultations in all parts of Fiji, with all Fijians. They are to get the broadest sampling of opinions on what the new constitution should include and how it should be organized. Yesterday, Mr Justice Anthony Gates, the nation’s Chief Justice, swore in the members of the Commission, and he told them:

“You will be required to demonstrate a willingness to listen and to elicit views even of the inarticulate and voiceless—or that should be, rather, especially of the inarticulate or voiceless. In a far corner of Fiji you may yet be presented with a gem of wisdom. In ascertaining the circumstances and needs of Fiji, I trust you will pay due respect to the views and aspirations of its people.”

And so, in exploiting broadband technology, governments and experts will provide the service and the people will help us find new applications, new requirements, and new opportunities. If we are wise enough to listen.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a model that is not too far away. The Prime Minister of Fiji just returned from a trip to the Republic of Korea, where he opened our newest embassy. Korea is an important economic and political player in our region. But sixty years ago, South Korea was a very poor country—devastated after year of occupation and war. Today it is an industrial and technological powerhouse. Its emphasis on education, embrace of technology, and ethic of hard work and enterprise have catapulted it to a position as one of the most developed countries in the world. And the Korean people are the most connected people in the world.

The Republic of Korea provides us the example: Believe in your people, invest in education, create the proper infrastructure and environment. Then let your people take you where you want to go. I have little doubt that more bandwidth has the potential to deliver great changes to our region.

Once again, a very big welcome to all our overseas delegates. Please take time to enjoy our world renowned Fijian hospitality.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me much pleasure in declaring open the ITU/CTO Pacific Broadband forum.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.