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Speech by Prime Minister at Opening Ceremony of 13th ASEAN Telecommunications and Information Technology Ministers Meeting (TELMIN)

14 November 2013 - Speech by Prime Minister at Opening Ceremony of 13th ASEAN Telecommunications and Information Technology Ministers Meeting (TELMIN), 14 November 2013

Speech by Prime Minister at Opening Ceremony of 13th ASEAN Telecommunications and Information Technology Ministers Meeting (TELMIN), 14 November 2013

"Connecting Communities, Co-creating Possibilities"

Honourable ASEAN Ministers

ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh

Dr Hamadoun Toure
Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union

Distinguished Guests, ladies and gentlemen

1. Welcome to Singapore! First of all, may I express my condolences to our Philippines friends, and to all those who lost their lives or property during Typhoon Haiyan. Our thoughts are with the people of the Philippines. We wish them all the best and will render them all the help we can to overcome this enormous natural disaster.

2. I would like to thank Brunei for successfully chairing ASEAN last year and I would like to congratulate Myanmar on assuming the ASEAN chair. We will work closely with Myanmar to further our community building goals.

The Importance of ICT

3. Meanwhile, it is our pleasure for Singapore to host the 13th ASEAN TELMIN. The strong attendance at this meeting reflects the significance of the occasion and our shared commitment to enhance regional cooperation in ICT. ICT, as the Secretary-General has just told us, is an important part of all our lives. Globally, 40% of the world's population is connected to the Internet. But if you look at mobile subscriptions, there are as many mobile subscriptions in the world as there are people. In Singapore, there are twice as many mobile subscriptions in the world as there are people - so some of us must have two handphones in our pockets. In Southeast Asia, almost all our citizens use ICT at some points in our lives – mobile phones, SMSs, internet, Skype, etc. It has become normal. Many of us enjoy TGIF – Twitter, Google, Instagram, Facebook.

4. This ICT penetration, this TGIF and others, has brought many benefits. It has promoted economic growth. ICT is a growth sector in its own right – global ICT spending is increasing by 4% a year, and will reach US$4 trillion by 2015. But ICT, apart from being an economic activity on its own, is also a critical infrastructure that all businesses rely on in a globalised world. ICT has improved our lives. For example, in the Philippines - Whatsapp, FB, Twitter and other instant mashups have been used to solicit aid and coordinate rescue efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. In Indonesia, SMS tsunami alerts help to warn people who are endangered and help with evacuation efforts.

5. ICT has promoted our regional integration and brought our countries closer together. It supports ASEAN's Community-building efforts and is an important pillar of ASEAN Connectivity. At the same time, ICT has brought along some new challenges, for example, the need for cyber-security. You just watch the events over the past fortnight, when hackers compromised websites in Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, and before that, Malaysia and Indonesia. I do not think any country has been spared. So we have to strengthen our defences and cooperate to deal with these common threats.

6. In Singapore, after the recent incidents, we have arrested some of the people suspected of perpetrating the hacking. We must not condone such malicious and harmful behaviour. It is not a prank when someone hacks websites and intrudes into computer systems. It is in fact, a criminal act. At a minimum it inconveniences the public, but potentially it has much graver consequences. It can damage infrastructure and endanger lives. For example, if the computer systems hacked control the electricity grid, or the water supply, or a hospital management system, or a banking system. Therefore, courts will deal with culprits to the full extent of the law. Citizens too should speak up against such acts, and express their clear disapproval of those responsible, or others who have supported or encouraged the perpetrators and the hackers.

Strengthening Regional ICT Cooperation

7. ASEAN should strengthen our cooperation in ICT to enhance regional integration and create new opportunities for our economies. Let me suggest to you three ideas which you may find worthwhile discussing – to harmonise 700MHz band for mobile broadband services, to transition from analogue to digital television broadcasts and thirdly, to strengthen the resilience of submarine communications cable systems.

8. First of all, harmonising the 700MHz band for mobile broadband services. ASEAN is aiming to switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting by 2020. This will free up the 700MHz band, which will make more spectrum available for mobile broadband services. It will improve the mobile broadband network's data capacity and indoor coverage and thus the consumer experience. It is important for ASEAN to align itself with the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT) 700MHz band plan, which will minimise potential radio frequency interference between neighbouring countries, improve regional mobile roaming and quality of mobile broadband services and benefit consumers by lowering costs through economies of scale. Four ASEAN Member States – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – have already committed to align with the APT 700MHz band plan. I encourage other ASEAN Member States to follow suit. TELMIN can support and facilitate the harmonisation. I would also encourage TELMIN to look beyond 700MHz and work on harmonisation of 800MHz band.

9. The second idea is to accelerate the shift towards digital television broadcasts. Television has and remains an important source of entertainment and news. We are transitioning from analogue to digital television. This will provides viewers with higher quality images and a more interactive viewing experience. It will also free up scarce spectrum capacity for other services such as wireless broadband. Therefore, we should accelerate the switch over from analogue to digital broadcasting.

10. Thirdly, we should enhance the resilience of submarine communications cable systems. These submarine communications cable systems are the backbone of the global communications network and the Internet. Secure cable systems contribute to the growth of ASEAN economies, by supporting business operations, financial trading and internet connectivity. But submarine cables are vulnerable to damage due to anchoring, fishing activities and natural disasters. Take for example, the major Taiwan earthquake a few years ago in 2006 – it damaged eight submarine cables, disrupted telecommunications services all over Asia and it took a lot of effort and time to repair. So I urge TELMIN to look at ways to strengthen and protect submarine cable connectivity within the region and beyond.


11. I hope these three ideas are useful in framing and prompting TELMIN's discussions. Your theme of "Connecting Communities, Co-creating Possibilities" is appropriate and timely. I wish TELMIN success in supporting ASEAN's Community building and economic integration efforts through ICT integration.

12. I hope that after you finish discussing ICT, you will have some time to explore Singapore and to enjoy yourselves. Thank you very much.