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Digital Prosperity in Asia Pacific and Beyond

Ambassador David A. Gross, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy
APEC Ministerial on Telecommunications and Information Industry
Bangkok, Thailand
April 22, 2008

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Honorable Ministers, Excellencies, distinguished delegates:

Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy, Ambassador David Gross gives remarks at the APEC Ministerial on Telecommunications and Information Industry in Bangkok, Thailand on April 22, 2008I would like to begin by thanking our gracious Thai hosts for a wonderful venue for this Seventh APEC TELMIN. I am delighted to say that this is my third TELMIN, and I always look forward to these important gatherings.

Over the past several years, I have watched with excitement and interest the growth of the global ICT industry. As recently as the year 2000, Internet users worldwide totaled 400 million. That was an incredible number for its time, as I remember from my first APEC TELMIN. We knew even then that Internet numbers were bound to soar, however, and they have: today, the number of users is 1.3 billion, a threefold increase. Mobile phone subscriptions rose from 750 million in the year 2000 to now over 3.5 billion, half the world’s population.

Obviously, there is no clearer example of the embrace of cutting edge technologies than in the Asia-Pacific region. Easy access to the Internet and mobile phones, in particular, has become a part of daily life for many of the Pacific Rim’s citizens.

APEC’s regional leaders, both policy makers and business people, can rightly share the credit in bringing about these changes through great ideas, entrepreneurship and sharing a common commitment to creating a connected and prosperous future. We see this vision as fundamentally reflected in the Bogor and Brunei Goals.

I would like to commend the work of our delegates in drafting a Declaration that continues the APEC tradition of combining a vision of economic prosperity and economic integration with a series of practical steps to keep our economies on the path to that goal. The Declaration mentions the achievement of the Brunei Goal of tripling Internet access in the Asia-Pacific region, which highlights the success of our individual and collective efforts to expand access to, and the benefits of, information and communications technologies.

The Declaration also underscores our Leaders’ commitment to trade liberalization including last year in Sydney when they reiterated the importance of a successful conclusion to the WTO Doha Round. I would add to that there should be progress particularly in the area of immediate interest to us in this hall: WTO Trade Ministers are expected to be invited to Geneva in mid-May for a Doha services "signaling" conference at which Ministers are expected to indicate where they are prepared to liberalize their services market. Since telecom services is a key priority sector in these negotiations, it would be a great boost to the trade round, and an important signal in a key economic area, if economies would indicate a strong set of concessions in the telecom area. This would certainly represent a major step in achieving the Bogor Goals and highlight the importance of our work.

The Declaration acknowledges that the APEC region does not stand in isolation to global ICT trends and that we should continue to reach out to international organizations that are addressing these issues. APEC TEL’s cooperative work with the OECD in assessing malicious software is certainly an excellent example of this.

During the Three Party Dialogue today we have heard some important views about how to connect the next billion users. We also have to ensure that they can turn the promise of the Internet and information and communications technologies into jobs, products, services and ideas, and send them – virtually or physically - across borders as effortlessly as possible. This will certainly help further our Leaders’ goal of creating an integrated Asia-Pacific economic region.

For its part, the challenge for the private sector today is to continue to provide easy-to-use, low cost, high performance equipment and services to users. It is clear to me that consumers care about competition in this area, since they benefit directly through the lower prices that come about through multiple players vying to sell their products and services.

I’m certain we could all agree that government’s public policy goals in the ICT field should be about maximizing the benefits of technologies and services for the people we serve. Therefore, for our part, as APEC officials, the challenge is to provide a framework that will allow companies to provide affordable ICT goods and services to consumers as well as to allow new ideas and approaches to flourish. I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts on what this framework includes.

As the TELMIN Declaration points out, our economies are witnessing technologies converging in a “next generation” environment. This environment is increasingly a mobile, and therefore, wireless one, in which handheld devices are rapidly becoming the combination laptops/telephones/entertainment devices that industry had predicted some years ago and are now finally becoming reality. And as technology and demand trends change, our regulatory approach must also change.

In the United States, we have seen how difficult it is to predict the type of new services and technologies that will be deployed during the next decade or so. So, as my colleague, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has stressed, government “must keep looking for ways to create an environment that encourages innovation and infrastructure investment. It is by doing so that we best protect the interest of consumers.”

We have found that economies shouldn’t have rules that favor one technology over another, but rather they should allow providers to experiment and innovate and thereby compete for consumers’ loyalty. This commitment to technology neutrality keeps governments out of the game of picking winners and losers and therefore greatly benefits our people.

This brings me to the next part of building the right infrastructure to make ICTs work for our digital prosperity: Recognizing the exponential impact of innovation.

Although we live in an increasingly global market, we APEC officials are faced with an interesting paradox: Each of us, in dealing with ICT issues, spends part of our time trying to help our economies compete against other economies for the benefit of our citizens. While this has been a familiar government role for centuries, the context has changed. Tariffs are dropping. Ideas, goods, and services emerge today at speeds and with global market take up rates that nobody could have predicted back in the 1990s.

Look at the almost overnight success of YouTube and MySpace and the barrage of mobile applications being launched month after month. Any innovation may now be eclipsed quickly and comprehensively by the next innovation, with the result - - as economists like to point out -- that the “frequent innovators” stand the best chance of capturing and keeping a leadership position.

This is a vital point for those of us concerned with developing our economies, including those of us who are committed to providing an environment where the private sector can create high paying jobs for our citizens. The innovation trend demands that societies harness every bit of the intellectual resources available to them. Failure to fully democratize and embrace freedom of expression will leave a society at risk of falling further and further behind those who do.

The Internet is arguably the greatest facilitator for freedom of expression and innovation. The United States recognizes the importance of freedom of expression and ideas and the free flow of information, on the Internet to economic development and its influence in facilitating greater social and political debate. We are committed to maximizing freedom of expression and the free flow of information and ideas around the world.

We refer to such freedom of expression and the free flow of information and ideas on the Internet as “Internet Freedom.” Increased access to the Internet allows citizens to express ideas and opinions more freely, encourages the expansion of democracy and accountable government, lowers the cost of doing business, creates new jobs, and expands the provision of education, health, and government services. For economies to realize the full potential of the Internet and related information technologies, they must maximize Internet freedom.

The trend of dramatic price reductions in the ICT sector has meant that more people on the low end of the income scale can participate in the information society. As I mentioned earlier, the combination of technological change and pro-competition policies, including allocating lots of new spectrum, around the world has resulted in about 3.5 billion people owning a mobile phone. For those of us who were involved with the birth of this industry in the 1980’s, when more than half the world had never made even a single telephone call, the fact that about half the people on the planet own a phone is truly remarkable.

Innovative price plans, including pre-pay plans, born out of competition among service providers together with the technological revolution that has resulted in remarkably affordable phones with impressive capabilities has meant that much of the world can afford a phone. We see this perhaps most notably in Africa, South Asia and in APEC economies where literally hundreds of millions of people who were without the ability to communicate beyond their villages now have access to information and can stay connected with loved ones anywhere in the world.

The implications of this revolution in affordability and availability are truly profound – economically, socially and politically. Because price reductions are driven by competition, production efficiencies, and open markets, the United States pursues these policies systematically in our bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.

In conclusion, I would like to say that we should continue to harness the intellectual power of APEC’s many economies to ensure regional digital prosperity. We should work closely with the private sector to lay the groundwork for our citizens’ access to the best training, best equipment, best connections and best protections for our systems. By connecting the TEL firmly to the ongoing work of the private sector and to the relevant work of other APEC fora and international organizations, we can continue to make APEC a leader in telecommunications and information policy.

Once again, I want to thank our wonderful Thai hosts and colleagues from all APEC economies, and I look forward to continuing to listen and to work together.

Released on April 30, 2008

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