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Speech by ISOC President and CEO, Lynn St.Amour, to ICT4All Forum

Tunis, Tunisia, 27 November 2008

Speech delivered in panel session Ultra High-Speed Broadband for business and investment promotion

Ladies and gentlemen, your excellencies, it is a pleasure to be here today in Tunisia for this important ICT4ALL conference. I would like to thank the host country and the organisers for bringing us together to discuss issues that are critical to the development of broadband and the Internet in this region and around the globe.

First, a brief word or two about the organisation I represent.

The Internet Society is an independent, international, nonprofit, cause-based organisation established in 1992 by two of the fathers of the Internet - Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn.

We are dedicated to the stability, continuity, and advancement of the Internet for the benefit of all people. We accomplish this through providing the organisational home for the groups responsible for Internet standards, including the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB); and, through advancing critical Internet technologies and best practices, providing information, advice, and training programs, and promoting national and international policies that support the growth and improvement of the Internet throughout the world.

The Society has more than 80 organisational and more than 28,000 individual members with over 90 chapters around the world, including one here in Tunisia. We are located in Washington, DC, and Geneva, Switzerland, with a distributed workforce in 12 countries including Regional Bureaus in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Over the past five years the Internet Society has become increasingly involved in the discussions around the future of the Internet, both in terms of its governance and its economic and societal importance.

The Internet Society was a key player throughout the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and is centrally involved in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). We also participated in and coordinated the inputs of Internet technical community organisations for the OECD Ministerial on the Future of the Internet Economy, held in June this year.

Given that there are several representatives of business here on the panel who can speak more authoritatively than I about their specific infrastructure needs, I would like to talk a little more generally about broadband, and particularly about the Internet's important role in economic development and how we must work together to ensure its continued growth and success.

But first some fundamentals.

Why is broadband important? A recent study by the OECD (PDF: 924KB) summarised it nicely:

Broadband networks are an increasingly integral part of the economy. As the technology evolves and bandwidth increases, the scope for broadband to act as an enabler of structural change in the economy expands as it affects an increasing number of sectors and activities. Direct effects result from investments in the technology and from rolling out the infrastructure. Indirect effects come from broadband's impact on factors driving growth, such as innovation, firm efficiency, competition and globalisation. Broadband facilitates the development of new inventions, new and improved goods and services, new processes, new business models, and it increases competitiveness and flexibility in the economy.

And data supports the view that broadband has a measurable impact on a nation's economy.

In 2006, InfoDev also published a report on the economic impact of broadband. It quoted a range of studies that had been undertaken to assess this impact - I will mention one here:

In a study conducted by CEGR (2003) for the Broadband Industry Group on the impact of broadband on the UK economy, it estimated that:
  • By 2015, the productivity benefits of broadband could be as much as 2.5% resulting in an annual increase to the UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of £21.9 billion.
  • Additional benefits that could be realised by 2015 were an annual estimated increase in UK fixed expenditures of £8 billion and an increase in annual net exports of £11 billion.

In the United States, a report by academics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon University (PDF: 1.14MB) examined historical data from that country, finding that:

The results support the view that broadband access does enhance economic growth and performance, and that the assumed economic impacts of broadband are real and measurable. We find that ... communities in which mass-market broadband was available ... experienced more rapid growth in employment, the number of businesses overall, and businesses in IT-intensive sectors, relative to comparable communities without broadband at that time.

Perhaps Ajai Chowdhry, Chairman and Executive Officer of HCL Infosystems, India, put it best when, at the recent World Economic Forum on Africa meeting, he said that given broadband's importance as a driver of growth its provision should be a national priority. Quote: "In many countries you can track growth directly to broadband."

And just how important is IT infrastructure - and therefore broadband - to foreign direct investment? Turns out it is very important, as you can imagine.

Take Africa. According to A.T. Kearney's Foreign Direct Investment Confidence Index for 2007 (PDF: 1,58MB):

.. the greatest risks to investing in Africa generally [are] political instability at the top of the list (77 percent of respondents), followed by insufficient public infrastructure (69 percent), low workforce skill level (58 percent), poor IT infrastructure (58 percent) and bureaucratic overhead (54 percent).

I don't think that I have to convince this panel of the importance of a robust ICT infrastructure, both to inward investment and economic development.

But this is a reminder that digging trenches or building towers is not enough and that many considerations including supportive regulatory environments, ICT training and education, welcoming business environments, and other factors have a major role in ensuring the success of any broadband deployment.

Indeed, at the recent Internet Society High Level Policy INET in Dakar, Sénégal, on "Broad and Equitable Access to the Internet", speakers noted that despite considerable progress in the region as a whole, some challenges remained, including:

  • harmonizing policies and regulatory frameworks
  • fostering public-private partnership and private investment
  • removing the barriers to competition
  • deploying modern, ubiquitous networks
  • facilitating the rapid development of convergent networks
  • accelerating new technologies, innovation, commerce, and growth
  • achieving full interconnectivity and seamless regional networks, and
  • achieving universal access levels.

So there is still much to do.

Let me now address a key underlying element to ensuring that high speed broadband can deliver upon its promise to drive economic growth and attract investment.

In many ways, broadband and the Internet are synonymous.

The Internet has increasingly become the medium for transacting business, communicating and undertaking research.

It has become an essential tool for business success, and is increasingly being used to enable government e-services, banking, and many other important services. It also has an incredible empowering dimension to it, enhancing entrepreneurship, community activism, education, the sciences, and cultural activities.

So how do we ensure the continued success of broadband and the Internet?

The Internet Society believes that the success and value of the Internet unequivocally lie in its unique development and management model, which we call the Internet Model.

This model is defined by a set of all-important characteristics, among them:

  • open standards based development providing a common global platform for product and services, in contrast to a centralised, closed model
  • key principles such as end-to-end architecture which is absolutely fundamental to encouraging innovation
  • collaborative engagement models that allow all stakeholders to participate in the growth and development of the Internet
  • freely accessible public processes for technology, standards and policy development, and, finally,
  • shared global responsibility, which is both a hallmark of the Internet's development and a result of its evolution to date.

The networking technology breakthrough that sparked the Internet phenomenon involved tearing down barriers between networks and establishing common protocols to share information across diverse network computing environments.

This end-to-end architecture is essential to the Internet's utility as a global platform for connecting people and, thus, for education, innovation, creativity, and economic opportunity. It is the principle that allows individuals to launch applications that have the potential to change the world - think of Google, Facebook, and other emerging Web 2.0 applications.

In enabling an unprecedented scale of human communications, the Internet has revolutionised how we express ourselves and collaborate, which has, in turn, spurred its remarkable growth and a blossoming of applications and services.

But I would note that its utility as a tool for human development is determined by the degree to which people have unfettered, affordable access to networks, content and services.

We can see that the Internet has thrived most in environments unencumbered by excessive governmental or private controls on technologies, infrastructure, or content, and, environments that have promoted competition and diversity in telecommunications, Internet services, products, and applications.

And, as I am sure these distinguished panelists will agree, the Internet's importance to our economies, today and in the future, will only increase as we successfully incorporate advances in security to ensure that services and applications are reliable, stable, and trusted, and that users have control over their identity on-line.

Ensuring the continuity, stability, accessibility, and openness of this incredible tool is fundamental to its continued role as an unprecedented and limitless platform for innovation and opportunity.

So what do we - technologists, business persons, academics, and governments - need to do to ensure that the Internet remains unfettered, limited only by our imagination and creativity?

First and foremost, we must embrace and support the Internet model. That is the raison d'etre of the Internet Society, and is the message I want to leave with you today.

We must all work together to preserve the principles that underpin the Internet's evolution to date, so that innovation, business success, economic development, and societal well-being are not jeopardised.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Internet is not just about trenches and towers, wires and routers. It is about openness, participation and above all, the users' ability to put this wonderful tool to improving their lives, and all of our lives. This user centricity, along with complementary public policies, will fuel creativity, build confidence, and deliver maximum benefit to economies and societies.

Thank you.