The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development has called for a global action that will accelerate digital development and pinpoint new actions that can drive faster progress towards universal and meaningful access to digital networks and services.
The ITU/UNESCO’s arm that met in Kigali, Rwanda, this weekend, also outlined the next steps for accelerating inclusive universal connectivity, setting the stage for tomorrow’s opening of the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference.
The high-level advocacy group came together for its annual Spring Meeting at the invitation of the Commission Co-Chair, H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, ahead of the landmark digital development conference held every four years by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU): the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC).
In his opening remarks to the meeting, President Kagame told Commissioners: “We are still living in tough times, economically, politically, and in terms of global public health. The immediate future is full of uncertainties and risks. But one thing is sure: All of the challenges we face can be handled faster, better, and more equitably, by investing in universal, affordable broadband.”
Commission Co-Chair Carlos Slim also emphasized the importance of connectivity in the wake of the ongoing global health crisis. “For the adoption gap, carriers could provide the devices, and government programmes could pay the monthly subscription for families that qualify, ensuring reasonable packages with unlimited minutes and enough data. This would support remote education, e-health, and e-commerce, among many other digital services,” he said.
Commissioners and Special Guests representing government leaders, heads of international organizations and private sector companies, along with civil society and academia, discussed the power of digital transformation to create broad and positive socio-economic impact and looked at ways to rapidly increase access to broadband, foster innovative partnerships, empower youth, and build trust in online spaces.
In particular, they confronted chronic connectivity challenges and discussed how to ensure affordable, sustainable, and equitable access to digital services across regions, especially in the world’s 46 Least Developed countries, where 17% of the population is still without a mobile broadband signal, and hundreds of millions more kept offline by high prices, lack of digital skills and awareness, and a dearth of usable, relevant and accessible content.
Recognizing the role digital technologies play in all facets of economic activity, Commissioners shared government and business strategies that are incentivizing investment in digital literacy, connectivity, and skills.
Commission Co-Vice Chair Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General, noted that “One of the challenges we need to overcome is reducing the cost of broadband subscriptions and digital devices, especially in low- and lower-middle-income economies. The affordability of broadband services in developing countries is also one of the Commission’s 2025 targets. I do hope that we can use this moment to accelerate the achievement of these targets and break down these last barriers to connectivity.”