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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

07 September 2020

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

I am very pleased to speak at the Official Opening Segment of WSIS 2020 and would like to express my appreciation to Mr. Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), for the invitation. 

The Asia-Pacific region, as a key driver of the technology revolution underway, has made tremendous progress in implementation of the WSIS action lines. 

In fact, in today’s COVID-19 context, several of our member States have clearly shown how they have been able to gain the public’s trust and better manage the pandemic through the effective use of digital technologies and sharing of credible information at the right time. 

As productive activities moved virtual, livelihoods were safeguarded across a wide range of sectors in these countries. Consequently, “Digital” has taken on a compelling new meaning in the region. We expect this to be a long-term trend and this bodes well for the region’s continued progress in the attainment of WSIS targets. 

Yet many have been left behind and this brings me to focus on challenges. 

Our region remains 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, and the Pacific is the most disconnected among our five subregions. 

An ambitious government-led investment push that tackles both the supply and demand sides of this digital divide is needed. 

On the supply side, the region needs to build and strengthen digital infrastructure. This is the essential condition for the achievement of WSIS targets and for a transformation to knowledge-informed and resource-efficient digital societies. Our research clearly shows that the region is better connected with the rest of the world, than with itself. This results in intra-regional data traffic leaving the region and being exchanged in offshore sites, leading not only to low speed and delays but also higher costs and lost revenue opportunities for regional operators. 

At the request of the Pacific island countries, ESCAP undertook an in-depth study that has recommended the establishment of a shared Internet exchange point (IXP) between Fiji, New Zealand and Samoa. This will not only improve Internet traffic quality between these countries, but also dramatically improve Internet quality for the remaining South Pacific island developing countries already connected directly by submarine fibre-optic cable to any one of these three countries. A drafting committee will be set up shortly to prepare this modality for the shared IXP. 

On the demand side, I recognize the importance of scaling-up investments in digital literacy. While progress has been made in modernizing school curricula, the private sector with its endless ability to invent and reinvent itself remains governments’ untapped resource. We also need to embed digital skill formation as part of a lifelong learning among communities, so that digital dividends can be shared across generations. 

And on the role of ESCAP, we just had the third session of our Committee on ICT and STI about three weeks ago, in which member States requested the secretariat to support the drafting of an action plan for the second phase of the implementation of ESCAP’s Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative. 

The Committee recognized that to build back better, societies must seek digital innovation solutions that support vulnerable groups first, and towards this end, we will work on an action plan with an ambitious vision that doubles connectivity by 2025 and achieves universal connectivity by 2030. 

I look forward to working with member States and with ITU under your leadership Mr. Zhao, and other stakeholders, in shaping our collaborative Asia-Pacific regional actions to harness digital technologies and certainly to accelerate the WSIS commitment as well as SDGs implementation. 

Thank you very much.

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