For over a decade, the Broadband Commission has tasked its multi-stakeholder membership to develop policy recommendations that are critical to realizing universal connectivity.
These recommendations are published annually in the Commission’s Flagship State of Broadband Reports. Below we have highlighted recommendations from our latest report, as well as consolidated 10+ years of reports to present the Commission’s key steps for the Decade of Action to ensure global implementation and adoption of broadband and achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. While we have organized these recommendations into distinct categories, we would like to emphasize that all are interconnected and are not intended to be siloed, but rather are organized for ease of reference.
The following excerpt is from the State of Broadband 2023: Digital Connectivity- A Transformative Opportunity
The State of Broadband 2023 focuses on the cost of meeting Broadband Commission targets – what are the considerations for how the next lap of connectivity for digital transformation can and should be financed and funded?
Definitions. As observed earlier in this report, the goals for “universal meaningful connectivity” can vary greatly, particularly when viewed through different lenses and approaches. For example, what would “meaningful” require when discussing access via mobile vs desktop computer vs new devices such as augmented/virtual reality, and what would it mean when discussing goals sufficient for education or entertainment, other enabled services, or by speeds vs capacity etc?
Methodology and metrics. In this report, we have identified that clearly identifiable and measurable outputs are a content gap which must be plugged if we are to understand how to progress. Apart from “universal meaningful connectivity”, we note that there are different approaches towards “affordability”, and defining “digital skills” has continued to prove elusive on many fronts. Notwithstanding, a harmonized approach is being implemented by UNESCO and thousands of partners around the world to promote media and information literacy competencies for all – integrating information, digital and media skills.
The global community may want to consider the development or, and/or inclusion of a methodology to identify key performance indicators and metrics, to be then tracked and updated on a regular basis. One possible way forward would be a review and consolidation of existing approaches towards connectivity from other multilateral agencies such as the ITU, UNESCO, and UNICEF.
Prioritizing connectivity. While governments should be supporting infrastructure incentives in high-cost areas, demand support initiatives, and digital ecosystem initiatives, countries should avoid falling into a digital chasm of seeking to meet minimum standards only; countries should also be aiming for high-performing, high-capacity connectivity, setting the connectivity ambition bar as high as possible, such as India is doing with broad 5G rollout.
There has been a fundamental shift from supply-driven communications access to demand-driven communication. Research conducted by the GSMA has found that fewer than 5% of the world’s population do not have mobile broadband available. We now need to focus on the Usage Gap to connect the almost 3 billion people who could be, but are not yet, online. GSMA found that people face five main barriers to mobile internet adoption: access, affordability, knowledge and digital skills, relevance, and safety and security. Addressing these barriers to getting online, using and benefiting online services will increase adoption and close this Usage Gap.
Almost 90 per cent of the population in some African countries live within range of a mobile internet signal, however internet use may be 20 per cent or less. Despite increased access to the internet, its use in Africa is generally low as there is very little content generated locally and or available in local languages. In addition, a lack of awareness, digital skills, and reliable data to steer policy interventions, are preventing individuals from participating fully online.
Policies and initiatives addressing digital literacy, affordable devices, relevant content and maintenance support are powerful tools to increase adoption and close the Usage Gap.
The residual coverage gap, particularly in low density rural areas will be met by a mix of fibre, terrestrial wireless and satellite technologies should be available for funds as is most appropriate. Recent entry into service of Very-High-Throughput Satellites in the Geostationary Orbit as well as new low earth orbit satellite constellations have begun to provide low cost, high quality broadband connectivity to previously inaccessible and costly areas to serve.
For digital transformation to fully benefit everyone and close the digital divide, industry and governments must work together to put high-performing, high-capacity connectivity in place at speed and scale. Governments can broaden the base of contributors by including companies participating in and benefitting from the digital economy. Governments could be ear-marking ICT sector contributions to governments and spending it on initiatives supporting connectivity and adoption goals, and reforming USAFs to be more effective financing mechanisms that support and expand connectivity to ICT services.
Governments could also be exploring policies to incentivize voluntary contributions from new types of contributors, e.g. improving project business cases through cross-collaboration between different public and private, national, and international contributors, and collaborating across public, private, national, and international organizations.
Acknowledging different types of contributions from other stakeholders could also expand the scope of demand. Governments could balance the broadband infrastructure development approach by catalyzing additional stakeholders to contribute to broadband development and via regulatory reform and demand side measures.
Crosscutting and integral to broaden funding is to also ensure that meaningful percentages of funding are allocated to user empowerment through improved media and information literacy and digital skills. This emphasis will bring both economic and social benefits to citizens and governments alike, resulting in a more sustainable digital transformation.
This requires governments to go with the grain of development finance institutions (DFIs), as well as ensure that challenges and barriers to private sector investment are removed and reduced, e.g.
- Ensuring market structures are sustainable and incentivise investment,
- Ensuring technology and vendor neutrality; where governments avoid picking winners, distorting markets and impinging on private sector investment.
- Enabling a fair competition / level playing field, spurs investment, innovation and cooperation. It also means that the best technologies rise and scale on their merits, securing broad use, interoperability and affordability.
- Trading off spectrum fees and extending license lengths for commitments to build out meaningful connectivity infrastructure to areas where it is lacking rebalance, fostering transparency and efficient permit granting procedures, providing harmonized mobile spectrum in a timely and affordable manner, focusing on harnessing long-term societal value.
- Direct government interventions should be limited to market failures alone and in helping meet the needs of underserved households and businesses, again without distorting competition dynamics and in a way that amplifies private sector investments, respecting technology neutrality.
Finally, governments should consider building sustainable policies that are both robust and resilient, giving policymakers the agility to scale up and/or adjust plans where necessary. A number of approaches should be considered:
- Using global, open standards within the network infrastructure. Without global standards, it would not have been possible for communication network technologies to compete, succeed and scale globally. Because the industry adopted and used international standards widely, it resulted in the expansion of communication technology coverage to regions not previously covered, and scaling up improves affordability and enable cost reduction for the entire supply chain: manufacturers, operators, and users. Countries should seek to prevent fragmentation of standard setting for telecommunications and digital technologies, and pursue the continuation of and adherence to global open standards as is the case with mobile technologies in 5G, extending to 6G.
- Creating a database of funding best practices and their impact on broadband adoption and economic development,
- Creating an international ICT investment fund with the objective of supporting sustainable development of broadband connectivity, and hosting the fund in a multilateral development bank (MDB) or an existing international organization.
The following excerpt is from the State of Broadband 2022: Accelerating Broadband for New Realities.
For a smooth transition to a more connected post-pandemic world two things need to occur:
Governments wishing to reduce the cost of broadband access can resort to a variety of measures, from adopting policies that incentivize the provision of more affordable services, to promoting public-private partnerships as appropriate and creating an enabling investment environment. Governments may also consider reducing sector specific taxes or subsidizing access to free or low-priced devices, as well as free connection in public administration facilities such as libraries, hospitals or schools, or at other public hot spots. Measures to ensure affordable access to universal meaningful connectivity will ideally form part of more comprehensive broadband strategies.
Protecting personal data is critical. Many data protection frameworks are inadequate, lacking clear implementation processes such as a data protection authority; they often do not require user consent for personal information to be used nor do they specify controls for transferring personal data abroad. Efforts are needed for countries to create adequate data protection laws or update their existing laws to bring them into conformity with best practices.
Measurement of global advocacy targets would benefit from greater clarity and scope. More can be done to collect and publish granular, reliable and gender-disaggregated data related to infrastructure deployments as well as Internet adoption and use in accordance with international guidelines and standards. This can include the disaggregation of Internet use by MSMEs or vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities or the elderly. Moreover, more research to better understand the context, circumstances and needs of individuals and MSMEs not yet using the Internet can be conducted or supported. These data and insights are key in setting policy priorities, targets and budgets. Measurement of broadband metrics merits more focus as a result of the pandemic and the likely aftermath. Indicators that were not prominently analysed before have now become more relevant. This includes household indicators such as the percentage with computers and Internet access or Internet-enabled handsets. Both merit additional granularity such as the type of computer the household has as well as the type of Internet access and breakdowns by household demographics. Collection of asymmetrical broadband speed information is also important given the new significance of upload speeds.
ICT companies need to do everything they can to reduce and eliminate their operational GHG emissions. This includes adopting concrete targets in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendations for minimizing the rise in temperature to 1.5°C.
There is a need for massive investment in broadband to bring it up to speed with the new post-COVID-19 world. Higher capacity and lower latency is needed to support videoconferencing for those who can work from home as well as remote learning in the event of future pandemics or other disruptions to school learning. The pandemic also magnified the existing digital divide and need to build out broadband infrastructure where there is no access. To facilitate this, governments could allocate sufficient amounts of spectrum on a competitive basis, prioritizing the larger benefits of investment in connectivity rather than the collection of high spectrum fees. In addition, governments could make licensed spectrum available on a flexible use and technology-neutral basis and not dictate technologies/architectures to be used.
Funding & Investment
- Use of universal service funds to develop broadband
- Update ICT regulations to promote more investment and market approaches for sustainability
- Expand initiatives to map network coverage and infrastructure needs, to develop priority lists for investment
- Incentivize and accelerate broadband investment
- Promote advanced market commitments for rural broadband access
- Incentivize Public & Private Partnerships
Policy & Regulation
- Implement new approaches and frameworks for spectrum allocation and licensing
- Merge regulation and convergent services
- Lower taxations and duties
- Improve right-of-way regulations
- Make broadband affordable by adopting appropriate policy and regulation
- Implement e-government initiatives
- Consider and, if appropriate, apply open access approaches to infrastructure
- Monitor and collect reliable ICT data
- Undertake public consultations on policy and regulation
- Improve IoT and Smart City policy frameworks
- Promote free flow of data
Environmental, Social & Governance
- Support efforts to provide broadband connectivity to refugees and displaced individuals
- Include in broadband plans efforts on digital inclusion, measures to protect children online, a focus on limiting environmental impacts and addressing climate, and public access initiatives
- Boost affordability and usability of broadband-enabled products and services, with a focus on addressing barriers faced by those at risk of being left behind
- Integrate gender in national broadband plans & strategies and undertake action plans to advance gender equality in access to broadband
- Address environmental impacts of digital infrastructure and the potential of connectivity in addressing the climate emergency
- Adopt a people-centric approach
- Ensure public confidence in participating online by considering increasing efforts to prevent cybercrime & cybersecurity incidents
Champions & Entrepreneurship
- Identify champions or leaders in broadband to mobilize political and technology support
- Encourage e-business and entrepreneurship
- Foster digital innovation by preserving intellectual property (IP) rights
- Foster locally relevant content creation and local hosting
- Build human digital capacity and skills to help users, SMEs and public sector agencies make the most of digital opportunities
The complete list of recommendations, with reference to the year they were originally published in a State of Broadband Report, can be found here.
In addition to recommendations presented in these reports, thematic Working Groups develop specific recommendations based on their focus. These can be found within their dedicated Working Group pages.