Hamadoun Touré: Widespread broadband access will allow
us to address and help resolve many of the most pressing
issues facing a more populous, ageing world
Over the past decade we have made astonishing progress in
bringing the benefits of information and communication
technologies — ICTs — to most of the
world’s people. There are now well over five
billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide, and more than
two billion people have access to the internet. Mobile cellular
penetration exceeds 100% in almost 100 countries.
Indeed, today, a world without ICTs is unthinkable, with ICTs
integrated into almost every single part of the social and
economic fabric worldwide. The big challenge now will be to
bring equitable, affordable access to broadband networks to all
the world’s people.
In a world where we still face enormous issues of poverty, lack
of sanitation, food insecurity, and inadequate healthcare and
education provision, does broadband access really matter?
The truth is that it most certainly does — because
widespread broadband access will allow us to address and help
resolve many of the most pressing issues facing a more
populous, ageing world. Indeed, broadband is absolutely key to
furthering social and economic development, and it will be
vital in all countries in the 21st century in helping to
deliver essential services such as health, education and good
government — as well as in helping to improve
The International Telecommunication Union has also been a
leader in recognizing the importance of broadband, and was
pivotal in 2010, together with Unesco, in launching the
Broadband Commission for Digital Development, with the aim of
demonstrating that in the 21st century broadband networks are
basic infrastructure in a modern society, just like roads,
electricity or water.
They are uniquely powerful tools for accelerating progress
towards the Millennium Development Goals — the MDGs.
They are remarkably cost-effective and offer an impressive
return-on-investment for both developed and developing
economies alike. They underpin all industrial sectors and
increasingly are the foundation of public services and social
progress. And they need to be coordinated nationally by
governments in partnership with industry, in order to reap the
The Broadband Commission is co-chaired by Paul Kagame,
president of Rwanda, and Carlos Slim, honorary lifetime
chairman of Grupo Carso, with myself and Unesco’s
director-general, Irina Bokova, serving as the co-vice-chairs.
There are more than 50 Broadband Commissioners, who are all
top-level leaders in their field, representing governments,
industry, academia and international agencies, and who are
committed to seeing the Commission continue its activities
right up to the 2015 target date for the MDGs.
The Commission presented its first report to UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September 2010, ahead of the
MDG Summit in New York. This first report included top-level
recommendations — including accelerating broadband
access for women and girls, and the need to use transparent,
fair, competitive, technology-neutral models — which
are designed to serve as a global blueprint for rapid broadband
development worldwide; and it is pleasing to be able to report
that the message continues to spread rapidly around the world.
The Broadband Commission’s second, much more
detailed, report, Broadband: a Platform for Progress, was
launched at the Paris meeting of the Commission in June 2011.
This report analyses the challenges and opportunities in
deploying broadband, taking into account local needs, financing
constraints and technical hurdles, and it makes practical
proposals on routes towards deployment of ubiquitous high-speed
networks at affordable prices in every country, at every stage
ICTs and broadband for sustainability
ICTs and broadband also have an absolutely crucial role to play
both in fostering a green economy and in creating a more
environmentally-sustainable world. While ICTs do themselves
contribute greenhouse gas emissions — currently around
2-2.5% of the total globally — they are also directly
instrumental in helping reduce the carbon footprint of all
other sectors, and particularly those that most contribute to
Through the use of smart technologies, such as smart grids,
smart water management and intelligent transport systems, or
through the dematerialization and digitalization of goods and
services, ICTs can help significantly abate the emissions from
the transportation and energy sectors, as well as those of many
ICTs — through satellite monitoring for example
— can also play a huge role in making agriculture more
efficient, allowing more timely planting and harvesting
decisions, and more effective use of irrigation.
The ITU is a key player in the area of climate change, and is
working with the ICT industry to help reduce its carbon
footprint, as well as setting up the standards that will enable
better measurement of the benefits ICTs and broadband can
In addition, the ITU is ensuring that the spectrum and
satellite orbits needed for monitoring climate change are
properly allocated and is exploring new ways in which
developing countries can use ICTs to adapt to climate change.
Examples of this latest area of activity include the use of
ICTs in early warning systems that can help save millions of
lives in natural disasters.
A good example of how broadband delivers social and economic
benefits for all — and improves environmental
sustainability at the same time — is smart electricity
grids, which use broadband for monitoring and control. Smart
grids allow electricity companies to limit losses, prevent
outages and provide customers with real-time information for
managing their own energy use at work or at home. In addition,
smart grids make it easier for locally-generated electricity
— including from renewable sources — to be
integrated, stored and shared as demand fluctuates across the
Big savings can be made in this way — both
financially, and in reducing the impact of electricity
generation on the environment. What is more, smart grids can
also be used to deliver broadband connectivity itself, along
with power supplies.
To be cost-effective, and rolled out rapidly, smart grids
depend on new global standards, and the ITU is pleased to have
brokered the G.hnem standards (ITU-T Recommendations) which
address several smart grid applications such as distribution
automation, advanced metering infrastructure, demand side
management, grid-to-home communications, home/building energy
management, home automation, vehicle-to-grid and
vehicle-to-charging station communications.
The new standards provide the crucial link between electricity
and communications networks, enabling utilities to exercise a
higher level of monitoring and control of the grid.
G.hnem is an ideal platform for smart grid applications because
of its support of power lines as a communications medium under
the direct and complete control of power utilities. Since power
line communications exploit the existing wired infrastructure,
the cost to deploy a communications channel is greatly reduced.
In addition, because G.hnem supports popular protocols like
ethernet, IPv4 and IPv6, G.hnem-based smart grid networks can
easily be integrated with IP-based networks.
Smarter resource management
The same essential principles also apply to smart water
management and distribution, and here, too, ICTs and broadband
will play a vital role in the 21st century, as water resources
become more scarce — and more valuable.
Technologies such as semantic sensor web, remote sensing with
satellite, and geographical information systems can be used
innovatively by water authorities to obtain information in real
time about water use; to track and forecast the level of
rivers; and to identify new sources of fresh water.
ICTs and broadband provide a unique opportunity for water
stakeholders to obtain information in near real time about a
number of physical and environmental variables such as
temperature, soil moisture levels, rainfall, and others through
web enabled sensors and communication networks, and can thus
have accurate information about the situation at hand
— without physically being there — for their
forecasts and decisions.
Smart metering technologies can also provide individuals,
businesses and water companies with near real-time information
about their own water use, thus raising awareness about usage,
locating leakages and having better control over water demand.
Broadband networks will also be a cornerstone of the internet
of things, by which objects and machines communicate without
the need for human intervention, making processes more
efficient while improving our lifestyle. One example is
intelligent transport, which can dramatically reduce both
accidents and fuel consumption.
Events such as ITU Telecom World 2011, which takes place in
Geneva on October24-27, will play a vital part in driving these
visions forward. For the first time this year, the event will
feature a special Broadband Leadership Summit where over 300
leaders from around the world will get together to share their
experiences exchange new ideas.
Through events such as this, ITU aims to raise the issue of
broadband to the very top of the political agenda, and to get
the message out to the rest of the world — to the
general public, to enterprises large and small, and to
government decision makers around the world.
That’s why at ITU Telecom World 2011
we’ll be seeing young innovators and digital
innovators working with NGOs rub shoulders with government
leaders and industry CEOs. Together, they’ll help
clearly demonstrate the social and economic benefits enhanced
global communications for all. GTB
The International Telecommunication Union is an agency of the
United Nations. For more on the Broadband Commission for
Digital Development, see www.broadbandcommission.org