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Opening remarks of Chair Nur Sulyna Abdullah at the APEC Telecommunications and Information Working Group

APEC Telecommunications and Information Working Group

11 – 16 May 2015 Boracay, Philippines

TEL Chair Nur Sulyna Abdullah

Opening Remarks

Good morning and welcome to the 51st Meeting of the APEC Telecommunications and Information Working Group.

On behalf of the APEC TEL, I would like to thank Government of the Republic of the Philippines in particular the Department of Foreign Affairs, the ICT Office of the Department of Science and Technology, the Philippines Tourism Authority and the municipality of Malay, Aklan for hosting APEC TEL 51 in beautiful Boracay.

We have seen for ourselves what a huge logistics operations this is which makes us doubly grateful to you for seeing to our comfort and the smooth running of the meeting.

APEC TEL has been very fortunate to have had so many willing hosts in the last few years. In our last four meetings, we have been to Bali, Hawaii, Yangzhou and Brisbane. Today, we are in Boracay. Amidst all the distractions these venues have to offer, we learn from every economy we visit, and we try to include these learnings in our planning for the future.

There is much that TEL can take away from the Philippines. The theme for APEC 2015, “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World“, says it all, I feel. Today, with a mobile phone or mobile device, you can run your life from wherever you are. The better the broadband, the more you can do.

For policy makers and regulators, the challenge is not about getting mobile phones or devices into the hands of the people. People are likely to have more than “a” mobile phone. Most people carry at least 2 mobile devices.

The challenge is making sure that people are connected. That they are not left behind. That those in rural areas get to do what people in the cities are doing on the Internet, with their mobile devices. That they get to participate in the Internet and Digital Economy.

That, to me, is what “inclusiveness” is all about, if you see it from TEL’s eyes. There are many ways to describe “inclusiveness”. But if you are from TEL, then it’s getting people to be on that digital track. For a start, trying to get them to uplift their financial standing by unlocking the potential that they have, using the Internet. Farming and fishing communities cutting out the middleman and going directly to market. That’s what it’s about for TEL. And this translates to individuals, cottage industries, SMIs, SMEs, large local companies, MNCs and the whole spectrum of the economy, across every industry.

In the Philippines, the ICT Office of the Department of Science and Technology is allotting 1.408 billion Pesos for Internet connectivity to be available in social places across the country. If I recall correctly, the project is called “Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places”.

It starts in July this year in all metropolitan areas and targets to be completed by November 2015. A tall order considering that the Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands. According to the DOST, enhancing Internet accessibility will step up the economic, social and educational opportunities for Filipinos.

Mobile commerce services were also adopted fairly early in the Philippines. The first mobile phone-based banking service was launched in 1997 in Finland, using SMS. In 1999, two major national commercial platforms for mobile commerce were launched, in Japan and, in the Philippines.

Since 2004, the Philippines has had an electronic money service, which transforms a mobile phone into a wallet. They have had access to a cashless and card-less method of facilitating money remittance, donations, loan settlements, disbursement of salaries or commissions, and payment of bills, products and services, with just a text message. It allows users to maintain cash reserves in an electronic format accessible via their mobile phones. Of course, one has to be a subscriber of that particular mobile operator. This has made significant inroads in serving the unbanked population.

Services such as mobile commerce, electronic banking, and DIY data plans are bridging more than the digital divide today, between the haves and have-nots. They are bringing “inclusiveness”, in the Philippines, as well as other and more developed nations, within the APEC region.

The relationship between the adoption of ICT, social transformation, and innovation in the developing world is complex and ever-changing. Especially so, in the APEC region where Member Economies are so diverse in our individual stages of development.

If you recall, at TEL’s milestone 50th meeting, which was held in October last year, in Brisbane, we acknowledged yet again the role that TEL is expected to play in facilitating the realization of APEC’s overall goals.

Recognising this, we worked very hard to develop the first draft of the new Strategic Action Plan.

I am very pleased to inform you that APEC TELMIN endorsed the APEC TEL Strategic Action Plan 2016 – 2020 at their 10th Meeting held in Kuala Lumpur from 30 to 31 March 2015.

In endorsing the document, TELMIN also endorsed the vision statement which reads, “By 2020, APEC has established an ICT eco-system, characterized by an integrated, seamless, secure, trusted and innovative ICT infrastructure, services and applications; widespread use of ICT in all sectors; and improved ICT skills and digital literacy which will enable APEC to attain regional economic integration, economic transformation and growth, and physical, institutional and people-to-people connectivity and other APEC goals.”

The whole idea of having a plan is to try to prepare for what’s in store for APEC come 2020. ICT will still be a key driver for growth. When we conceptualized the plan, we considered trends and we tried to visualize the future. Before we start to implement this new Strategic Action Plan, we need to be clear about how we are going to chart this path. In other words, we have to prioritise in order to manage our resources.

ICT today, is a given. It is as necessary as electricity and water. In the wrong hands, though, it will become a weapon. Try as we may, the discussion will eventually come round to cybersecurity and how to secure cyberspace. Maybe because these threats are real.

I Googled “IS news” last night. Within 0.34 seconds, Google found about 6.85 billion results. “IS Iraq” had 530 million results in less than a second. Negative influences such as terrorism, are threats to the economy.

According to the OECD, the severe tightening of border controls following the 9/11 attacks resulted in long waiting times that disrupted the operations of manufacturing companies. Border controls have now been relaxed and waiting times reduced, however, some feel that the porous nature of borders creates a security threat.

Attempts to reinstate comprehensive controls at the borders would have long-lasting detrimental consequences for economic growth and could lead to a significant drop in international trade.

By analogy, we should compare that to how threats such as terrorism will affect the flow of information on the Internet. This will impinge on privacy and the veracity of data. Most consumers prefer privacy options, but at the same time, policy makers and regulators are aware that such changes will likely pose a challenge to the Internet economy as well as the real economy. Therein lies the conundrum for us.

According to the WEF’s Global Risks 2015 Report, while the “Internet of Things” (IoT) will deliver innovations, it will also entail new risks. Analytics on large and disparate data sources can drive breakthrough insights but also raise questions about expectations of privacy and the fair and appropriate use of data about individuals.

Security risks are also intensified. There are more devices to secure against hackers, and bigger downsides from failure: hacking the location data on a car is merely an invasion of privacy, whereas hacking the control system of a car would be a threat to life. The current Internet infrastructure was not developed with such security concerns in mind.

So there are threats in cyber space; and there is an unimaginable wealth of information flooding the Internet beyond our control. How do we mitigate these threats, harvest the positives and turn these into the tangible economic output?

How do we facilitate economic growth and help stem the tide of negative influence?

There must be a way to realize the potential in ICT in all this. Otherwise, the transformational power of ICT will never see its true potential.

We agreed to formulate a comprehensive best practice security guide which will provide the much-needed impetus to propel the region towards the digital economy.

There are many areas in which TEL can work with other APEC groups in a cross-cutting manner, but security is something that we hold in the palm of our hand. And it is TEL who can produce this for APEC. It is because of that, that TEL will do this quickly.

Friends and colleagues,

At the APEC CEO Summit held in November last year, President Obama said, and I quote, “Taken together, APEC economies account for about 40 percent of the world’s population, and nearly 60 percent of its GDP. That means we’re home to nearly three billion customers, and three-fifths of the global economy.”

I believe that TEL and our work will make a difference to the economy of the region. As TEL Chair, speaking at my final meeting, I want to impress upon you that our work can and will contribute directly to the growth of APEC’s future economy. We are fortunate to be able to support APEC in its efforts to grow the Internet and Digital Economy.

Let the APEC TEL Strategic Action Plan 2016 – 2020 be our guiding document in the next five years. Build on our collective strength as TEL to do our utmost in achieving its objectives. Above all, try to be the pathfinder for APEC’s new economy. Not just because we have some expertise, but because we want to share and most of all, we have the will to do so.

Finally, on behalf of TEL, once again I would like to express our appreciation to our hosts and welcome you all to APEC TEL 51. I am confident that this will be yet another successful TEL meeting.

Thank you.

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