Universal broadband access vital to driving global economic recovery – UN

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Universal broadband access is the vital catalyst needed to drive global economic recovery and accelerate lacklustre progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals, according to a new report released by the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly underscored humanity’s growing reliance on digital networks for business continuity, employment, education, commerce, banking, healthcare, and a whole host of other essential services. Yet today, almost half the global population has still never accessed the internet, and hundreds of millions more struggle with slow, costly and unreliable connections, often through remote locations like internet cafés.

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’s 2020 State of Broadband report, released at the Commission’s 10th anniversary meeting earlier today, includes a rallying call to world leaders and heads of industry to place universal broadband connectivity at the very forefront of global recovery and sustainable development efforts.

The ​State of Broadband 2020: Tackling Digital Inequalities, A Decade for Action, highlights stark disparities in access to high-speed connectivity that have prevented billions of adults and children from benefiting from remote working, learning and communication. The report also takes stock of progress made in expanding access to and adoption of broadband infrastructure and services, and achieving the Commission’s seven 2025 advocacy targets.  

Paul Kagame, Co-Chair of the Broadband Commission and President of Rwanda said: ​​”​The first decade of the Broadband Commission has made a real impact by highlighting the transformational power of universal access to high-speed internet connectivity and smartphones. Ideas that seemed futuristic ten years ago, are now mainstream. The next decade will be about using digital tools to speed up the recovery from the Covid pandemic and make up some of the lost ground on the SDGs.” ​

Carlos Slim Helú, President of the Carlos Slim Foundation and Co-Chair of the Broadband Commission, said: “Digital technologies are offering services that are creating big changes. Regulators and governments should be aware of the vital importance for society and development that telecom networks play, and that high taxes, spectrum charges and regulation are barriers to digital inclusion. Today our challenge is to look for universal connectivity and to make it available for countries and people. Broadband Connectivity is the bridge to move to economic development and welfare.” ​ 

“Leaving no one behind means leaving no one offline, now more than ever before,” said Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations’ specialized agency for information and communication technology (ICT), and Co-Vice Chair of the Commission. “Increasing and coordinating ICT infrastructure investments will be instrumental, not only in connecting the 3.6 billion people still offline, but also in driving the development of new technologies central to the digital economy.”

“Digital technology could be the tool we need for human-centred emancipation. But to play this role, it needs our expertise and cooperation because we need to pool all of our resources if we are to rise to the challenge of connectivity and competencies,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “In my view, this is the significance of the two Working Groups co-chaired by UNESCO. These documents published today focus on two crucial questions: school connectivity and the promotion of reliable, quality information.”

According to latest ITU data, overall global Internet user penetration stands at 53.6%. That figure drops to 47% in developing countries, and to just 19.1% in the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs), falling well below the Broadband Commission’s advocacy Target 3 of broadband Internet user penetration of 75% worldwide, 65% in developing countries and 35% in LDCs by 2025. 

Commission Manifesto issued in conjunction with today’s report launch calls on the global community to recognize digital connectivity as the foundational element of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.The Manifesto affirms the commitment of the Broadband Commission to mobilize efforts to achieve the ‘Global Goal of Universal Connectivity’ in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and other connectivity initiatives. 

Finally, it calls on all stakeholders to collaborate to:

  • ​Establish a baseline for universal digital connectivity.
  • Identify and support public-private financing of universal broadband, pioneering innovative hybrid and/or complementary, replicable and sustainable financing and investment models for all types of networks, and catalysing impactful partnerships.
  • Advocate for enabling regulatory environments in the field of ICTs, ICT capacity-building, and online safety and security, especially for children, as integral to efforts to achieve the Global Broadband Targets 2025 and the SDGs. 

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