New ‘State of Broadband’ report warns of stark inequalities laid bare by COVID-19 crisis
Universal broadband access is the vital catalyst needed to drive global economic recovery and accelerate lackluster 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.
A 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.
Note to editors:
A series of additional Broadband Commission Working Group reports presented at the annual fall meeting of the Commission include:
- Today, the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on School Connectivity, co-chaired by ITU, UNESCO and UNICEF, released their report: “The Digital Transformation of Education: Connecting Schools, Empowering Learners“. The report focuses on school connectivity and introduces a methodology and framework for mapping and connecting primary and secondary schools to the Internet, and for using schools as access points to provide meaningful connectivity to surrounding communities and citizens.
- The Working Group on Digital and AI in Health, co-chaired by the Novartis Foundation and Microsoft, presented Reimagining Global Health through Artificial Intelligence: The Roadmap to AI Maturity. Released a week ago, the report identifies actionable recommendations tailored to individual stakeholder groups, enabling governments, health organizations, civil society, the private sector and others to capture the game changing capabilities of AI for health. The report identifies five use cases for how AI is applied to address global and public health priorities, strengthen health systems, and improve outcomes for patients.
- The Working Group on Freedom of Expression and addressing Disinformation – Chaired by UNESCO and Dr Al Jaber, introduced their report on Balancing Act: Countering digital disinformation while respecting freedom of expression, a research report providing a suggested 23-step assessment tool for responses to disinformation, plus a rich set of targeted recommendations, to make a real difference in helping to combat disinformation while also strengthening freedom of expression.
About the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development
The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development was established in 2010 by ITU and UNESCO with the aim of boosting the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda, and expanding broadband access in every country as key to accelerating progress towards national and international development targets. Led by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helù of Mexico, it is co-chaired by ITU’s Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. It comprises over 50 Commissioners who represent a cross-cutting group of top CEO and industry leaders, senior policy-makers and government representatives, and experts from international agencies, academia and organizations concerned with development.
Learn more at: www.broadbandcommission.org
About the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the specialized United Nations agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), driving innovation in ICTs together with 193 Member States and a membership of over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organizations. Established over 150 years ago in 1865, ITU is the intergovernmental body responsible for coordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communication infrastructure in the developing world, and establishing the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems. From broadband networks to cutting-edge wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, radio astronomy, oceanographic and satellite-based earth monitoring as well as converging fixed-mobile phone, Internet and broadcasting technologies, ITU is committed to connecting the world.
For more information, visit www.itu.int.