Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a pleasure for me to address the opening session of this meeting on Open Consultations organized by the UN Group on the Information Society (UNGIS). These consultations originated in a recommendation from the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) and later a request from ECOSOC. This event represents an opportunity for all stakeholders concerned to discuss existing mechanisms for financing ICT as well as the need for new and innovative solutions. The outcome of the event will be reflected in the report of the Secretary-General on WSIS follow up, which will be addressed by the CSTD at its 13th session in May 2010, as well as by ECOSOC and the General Assembly.
In many respects, the diffusion of ICT has been a great development success story. Since the second gathering of world leaders in the context of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005, we have witnessed a dramatic growth in the spread of various ICT applications, notably mobile phones - exceeding even the most optimistic expectations. There has also been widespread progress in the case of Internet use, with developing country populations currently accounting for more than half of all Internet users. The use of the Internet may accelerate further with the spread of Internet-enabled mobile phones.
However, there is no room for complacency. There is a long unfinished agenda to address to achieve an all-inclusive information society. In this context, there is a need to evaluate how existing as well as new financial mechanisms can support greater deployment, access and use of ICTs in developing countries, as well as assess the benefits from such use.
Let me make a few observations and suggestions regarding some of the key issues that you may want to address during these Open Consultations.
It is important to distinguish between the kinds of areas in which financing is needed:
- First, financing is required to sustain the roll-out of national and international backbone infrastructure into regions that remain inadequately connected.
- Second, there is a need to explore the most effective ways to achieve universal access to relevant ICTs.
- Third, in order to achieve an all-inclusive information society, attention must be devoted to developing new applications and content that are well suited to the needs of different communities. For example, important gaps remain within economies and societies that affect the demand for and the ability to use ICT. To date, improved access to ICTs has mainly benefited urban young English-speaking populations. An extra effort is required to bring marginalized and disadvantaged groups into the information society through training and the creation of locally relevant content and languages.
- A fourth area concerns the development of capacity-building in a broad sense. This involves the development of skills, the creation or upgrading of institutions, as well as improvements to the legal and regulatory framework. Without the appropriate skills, relevant institutions and legal frameworks, it is difficult to reap the full benefits from an improved ICT infrastructure.
For each of these four areas in which financing is needed, this meeting can help shed new light on the efficiency of existing current financing mechanisms, and ask how they can be enhanced. Moreover, it is equally important to explore ideas for new and innovative mechanisms.
Depending on the nature of support required, additional finance can be sought from different sources. Financial resources may involve public and private, domestic and foreign funds. The importance of various sources has evolved over time, and continues to change. For example, there appears to be growing interest among both public and private sources in the South to finance ICT projects in other developing countries.
Participants may wish to consider what forms of financing are most appropriate in different situations. With regard to infrastructure investment, private sector financing has become increasingly prominent, sometimes in the form of public-private partnerships. In the case of capacity-building efforts, by contrast, most efforts are financed through public domestic or foreign sources in the form of official development assistance.
UNCTAD continues to play an active role in the area of ICT for development. For more than a decade, we have supported developing countries by enhancing their access to ICT statistics, informing governments and other stakeholders on relevant ICT trends and developments, reviewing national policies and by building the capabilities of countries and regions to improve their legal and regulatory frameworks.
Let me take this opportunity to inform you that our next Information Economy Report will be launched in two weeks time. It takes stock of recent developments with regard to extending connectivity worldwide, with special attention given to broadband expansion. Furthermore, the report examines the impact of the current economic crisis on the ICT sector and how contracting global growth has affected trends in various ICT goods and services. I encourage you all to read it.
In its capacity as Secretariat to the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development, UNCTAD also assumes a role in the follow-up process to WSIS. On 9-11 November 2009, the Inter-sessional Panel of the Commission will be organized here in Geneva, focusing partly on the financing mechanisms for ICT for development. It is my hope that our deliberations during today and tomorrow will produce constructive ideas and proposals that can be shared with the Commission on Science and Technology for Development and discussed at its inter-sessional panel meeting.
In closing, the development opportunities created by ICTs are multi-faceted. In order to narrow the digital divide and to achieve an inclusive information society, the challenge of financing ICT remains crucial. Meeting that challenge requires all stakeholders - governments, the private sector, international organisations and civil society - to join forces. This is all the more urgent at a time when the financial system is in turmoil.
We are rapidly approaching the half-way point between the Tunis phase of WSIS and 2015, when the United Nations General Assembly will review progress towards achieving the WSIS targets as well as the Millennium Development Goals. Against this background, I encourage all stakeholders in the public and private sector as well as in civil society to make the most of these Open Consultations with a view to maximizing the development gains from ICT.