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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

19 August 2020

Excellency Mr. Bambang Brodjonegoro, Minister of Research and Technology and Chairman of the National Agency for Research and Innovation, Indonesia,

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and to the third session of the Committee on Information and Communications Technology, Science, Technology and Innovation.

COVID-19 lockdowns turn many aspects of our  physical lives into a virtual reality almost overnight, “digital” has taken on a compelling new meaning in the region – people, planet and prosperity are all increasingly dependent on access to digitally-driven technological innovations and seamless connectivity. 

Over the past six-months, several member States have clearly shown signs of better managing COVID-19 pandemic and gaining the public’s trust by effectively utilizing digital technologies and sharing credible information in a timely manner. The digital age offers enormous opportunities to reach the most vulnerable groups of our societies.

With growing dependence on digital platforms in all walks of lives, countries in the region have helped maintain livelihoods and enabled those with access to carry on with their productive activities virtually. Yet, many have been left behind.

 

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to share some highlights from our analysis on emerging trends in digital technologies and regional connectivity for your further discussions to address the thematic issues of this Committee session.

Asia-Pacific remains to be one of the most digitally divided regions in the world.  More than half of the region’s 4.6 billion people remain offline. Less than 5 percent of the population has access to high-speed and affordable Internet, while the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States are facing even more challenges in their path to digital connectivity.

Furthermore, children in households without access to computers and internet are missing out on virtual schooling modalities. Women and girls have lower access to digital platforms, deepening already existing socio-economic inequalities in the COVID-19 era.

In this connection, the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, launched in June 2020, calls for all stakeholders to connect everyone, achieving universal internet access by 2030; to respect human rights in both face-to-face, and online situations; and to promote digital trust and security.

These key policy areas are helping shape the regional policy directions and dialogues. An ambitious government-led investment push that tackles both the supply and demand sides of this great digital divide can prioritize and connect the last mile.

 

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

As we are planning to chart out future in the post-COVID-19 world, we need to address the digital and technology divide with urgency. We cannot let this divide drive new forms of socio-economic inequalities.

In view of this, there are at least three areas on which this Committee’s guidance would be valuable.

First, on the supply side, to provide safe, inclusive, affordable and reliable mega-speed internet access for all. The Asia-Pacific region needs to build and strengthen digital infrastructure. This is the foundation – the essential condition for the transformation to knowledge-informed and resource-efficient digital societies. 

The emphasis is to push for big investment planning to leapfrog into the next generation networks, from 2G/3G straight into 5G or even near-future 6G. With resilient infrastructure, fibre optic networks can absorb sudden surges in internet demand and withstand destructive disasters.

Second, on the demand side, to improve the development of internet content and services for all generations, I recognize the importance of investing in digital literacy. Children need special attention and, in this regard, the private sector with its endless ability to invent and reinvent itself remains governments’ untapped resource in the modernization of curricula.

By embedding digital skill formation as part of a lifelong learning among communities, digital dividends can be shared across generations and help preserve intergenerational values and bonds.

Third, to address both supply and demand aspects of the digital divide through Government-led regional policy coordination and multi-stakeholder partnerships, I hope this Committee can take further steps in enhancing cooperation and partnerships, and provide further guidance to the implementation processes of the ESCAP’s Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative.

Strengthening sub-regional Internet traffic management for improved Internet quality has been showing tangible progress in Asia and the Pacific. Furthermore, I welcome the identification of “smart corridors” where the coordinated co-deployment of fibre optic cable along infrastructures such as highway, road, railway, and power networks could lead to significant cost-saving measures and infrastructure of the future.

 

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

I am committed to working with member States in areas related to Information and Communications Technology, Science, Technology and Innovation to digitally connect our societies together.

ESCAP platform is actively bringing member States and other stakeholders together in shaping collaborative regional actions to harness technologies during pandemics. The Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative and framework, and Geospatial Information Applications for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals are some of the critical tools in this endeavor.  

Furthermore, ESCAP’s regional institution, the Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development (APCICT) is upgrading and contextualizing its flagship initiatives to fit current exigencies of COVID-19.

There is no doubt in my mind that to build back better, societies must seek technology and innovation solutions that support the vulnerable groups first, and to promote inclusive technology and innovation strategies for sustainable development and post-COVID-19 recovery plans.

With this background, allow me to highlight three policy responses for your consideration and further guidance. 

First, accelerate and scale-up the preparation for the second phase of Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway implementation. I call on our member States to agree to work on an action plan with an ambitious vision that doubles connectivity by 2025 and achieves universal connectivity by 2030.

Second, ensure innovations are accessible and affordable for all as a policy priority. I urge member States to roll out innovative government policies that incentivize businesses to focus on creating innovative business models and practices – such as social enterprise, inclusive business and impact investing.

Third, support research, training, and advisory services in the fields of science, technology and innovation that will further strengthen the secretariat’s work in aligning our regional capacity-building activities with global initiatives.

 

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

Together with governments, private sector, academia and social innovators and entrepreneurs, we must offer visions of a future with practical solutions to bring sustainable development closer to everyone.

I am looking forward to hearing the outcome of this Committee.

I am also pleased to inform you that we are kicking off a six-part Regional Conversation Series on Building Back Better in commemoration of the United Nations’ 75th anniversary this year. The first Regional Conversation that will be held later today, will focus on the theme of “Accelerating Digital Connectivity and Leveraging Innovation”.

I deeply appreciate your continued trust and commitment in our partnership and engagement.

Thank you for your attention. I wish you a very successful Committee session.

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