Today we opened our doors – virtually – on the first-ever fully remote meeting of the Telecommunication Development Advisory Group.
This group plays a key consultation role in defining the actions of my Bureau in accelerating digital development. But since our last meeting in 2019, the world has changed beyond all recognition.
In many of ITU’s 193 Member States, communities remain in full or partial lockdown. And when restrictions are eventually relaxed, we will all emerge into a world that is very different from the one we remember from TDAG-19.
The COVID pandemic has ravaged our populations, our healthcare systems, and our economies. No one is sure what the ‘new normal’ will look like, post-COVID –and for many, that post-COVID world still seems a long way off.
But one thing this crisis has dramatically, irrevocably and indisputably reinforced is the vital importance of connectivity.
Those who enjoy the kind of high-speed connections that will enable remote participation in this year’s TDAG are among the lucky few. Around the world, some 3.6 billion people still have no connectivity at all. And many, many hundreds of millions more struggle with access that is too slow, too costly, and too unreliable to make a meaningful difference to their lives during this crisis.
If there’s one thing the unprecedented events of the past few months have conclusively illustrated, it is the life-changing importance of being connected.
It is clear that we cannot, and must not, accept as ‘normal’ a situation where every second person on the planet has to manage without this vital digital lifeline.
So when we set about defining a ‘new normal’ for our post-COVID world, I urge that our ‘new normal’ be based on the principle of broadband access for all.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres encourages us to use the COVID crisis to ‘build back better’. I hope, through TDAG, and working collaboratively with ITU’s other Bureaux, that we can take this one step further and help the world ‘build back better with broadband’.
I believe the time has never been better to harness the intense focus governments are now according digital networks and services, in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
One important agenda item for this year’s TDAG meeting is the start of preparations for next year’s World Telecommunication Development Conference, where we will debate and agree new strategies to accelerate implementation of the Buenos Aires Action Plan.
WTDC-21 represents a truly unique opportunity to make huge strides forward in connecting the unconnected, building government and industry cooperation around a global ‘big dig’ so that we get those without access online as fast as possible, and leverage the power of digital to achieve the SDGs.
COVID-19 has taken away so much. But it has given the global development community one very important thing, and that is the ear of the world’s decision-makers, at the very highest level.
ITU can be a prime mover in driving real and rapid progress towards a world of universal connectivity, and universal opportunity. At TDAG-2020, I want us to seize that chance, and to be a part of the change we all want to see.