Digital Prosperity: Turning Challenges into Achievement

Bangkok, Thailand, 20 April 2008
  • Remarks by Ambassador Juan Carlos Capuñay, Executive Director, APEC Secretariat
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak at this 7th Ministerial Meeting on the Telecommunications and Information Industry. "Digital Prosperity: Turning Challenges into Achievements" is a most appropriate summary of the lofty tasks before you. I would like to share with you today some thoughts on the "Way Forward".
In fact, in the context of globalization, it is obvious that the ability to fulfill social needs depends on information and technology to variable degrees. Fair trade, structural reform and the ability to monitor and respond to issues of human security are constantly being streamlined and made more efficient through advances in technology. Strategic regional partnerships and bridges across the development gap are conceivable only by virtue of our previously unmatched ability to communicate.
In the time since APEC's inception in 1989, the significance of information and telecommunications has grown. In 1990, an average of only 0.6 percent of those living in APEC member economies were cellular subscribers and only 0.08 percent used the internet. Within a space of 15 years, those figures rose to 55 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
Not only do businesses function differently. People live in dramatically different ways as well. It is as viable to work from home as it is from an office. Audiovisual interactions with family in the most remote of villages are becoming as common as teleconferences in New York. Volumes of books are being replaced by shiny laptop computers.
If the same indicators are considered as an example - the percentage of populations subscribing to cellular telephones and using the internet - it becomes quickly apparent that the benefits of technology have not been equally experienced. Among the most developed APEC economies, cellular phone subscriptions have reached well over 83 percent and internet use over 44 percent, whereas developing economies have only a 22 percent rate of cellular subscription and as little as 8 percent internet use.
If one is to deduce that as the benefits of connectivity serve to increase ease and opportunity in business and lifestyle, the converse must also true. Detriments due to the lack of access to information and the ability to communicate will proliferate over time. It is no surprise, for example, that the economies with the lowest rates of connectivity also have the lowest rates of youth literacy and income levels.
The telecommunications and information sector is a uniquely positioned industry: apart from cross-cutting almost everything that is achieved in business, its impact is far-reaching and affects all aspects of both collective and individual development. The potential of telecommunications in addressing the social disparities that have impeded economic growth is unparalleled.
Since 1990, APEC has been committed to facilitating development of an information infrastructure across the Asia-Pacific. In that time, many strategies and initiatives have been developed to assist member economies in working toward the establishment of an Asia-Pacific Information Society. Ten years later, in 2000, Leaders met in Brunei and marked a progression in their commitment, aspiring to a policy framework that would enable the people of urban, provincial and rural communities in every economy to have individual or community-based access to Internet information and services by 2010.
Less than two years from this target date, one is able to observe a series of achievements toward this admirable goal. Even the physical appearance of many small villages has been transformed by the establishment of telecommunications infrastructure. Telephone main-lines in some developing economies have more than quadrupled in a space of 15 years. People in remote locations are able to exchange lessons and experiences with those in the most bustling urban settings - precisely because they are able to form business partnerships and have access to the same markets.
But to bridge the development gap in the most authentic way, access must be matched with ability. The "Digital Divide" is, in some cases a veritable gulf, alienating those who lack either access to or skills in information and communication technology. Data processing is an unparalleled medium for entry into the global arena. In this respect, the contribution of the USA through the pilot project "Freedom Digital Initiative", has been of great benefit to the small and micro enterprises of Peru.
APEC Digital Opportunity e-Commerce centers, other APEC initiatives, have provided information and communication technology related training for small and medium size businesses (SMEs). Member economies including Chile, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam are being enabled to take full advantage of the business opportunities afforded by the internet.
The internet has been a major contributing factor in the process of structural reform, reducing both the time and cost of investment and cross-border trade. Canada, as an example, has streamlined border customs procedures considerably by receiving electronic information in advance. And China has facilitated a number of government procedures in addition to increasing interaction between government and citizens, via the internet.
We all know that all progress brings with it new sets of challenges. The widening divide between those who have skills and those who do not must be addressed. We need to discover ways in which to deliver the benefits of technology to those who have limited or no access to technology, and avoid breeches of privacy, conspiracy or theft. We also need to believe that it is possible to limit the possibility of abuse without hampering the vast potential for good that this new world of technology presents.
Inasmuch as the challenges seem greater and more complex than ever, the wealth of opportunity is unparalleled. It is on a platform of considerable past success that this 7th APEC Ministerial Meeting on Telecommunications and Information Industry launches itself more ambitiously into a next phase, or the Way Forward if you will. The ability to turn challenges into achievement will be the definitive indicator of APEC's success.
An authentic private-public sector partnership could be the main resource in our effort to advance development through innovation and technology. Partnerships between private and public sectors are mutually beneficial. Private companies are willing to drive technical innovations and invest in the development of the economy's infrastructure, provided that governments create environments that are conducive. Apart from dramatic visible and immediate benefits to communities, foreign direct investment increases competition as well as financial and other services.
Our ability to address challenges through policy and initiatives that are innovative and forward looking will no doubt be revealed in ways as equally dramatic as the changes that have already occurred in the telecommunications and information sector. This will be our way forward.