Urgent roll-out of broadband needed against widening digital divide: ITU

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations cannot be achieved without affordable and universal access to ICTs and broadband connectivity, according to members of the Broadband Commission who met on the eve of the opening of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly.

Asean broadband

Rwanda president Paul Kagame, co-chair of the Broadband Commission, said: “Broadband can’t solve all the world’s problems, but we know it can accelerate progress, in overcoming the biggest obstacles to global prosperity and wellbeing.”

The commission addressed two specific challenges during this year’s meeting: firstly, how broadband can support the equitable provision of health and education in all countries and secondly, how to achieve the investment levels required for the rollout of global broadband infrastructure that connects everyone, everywhere.

The deployment of broadband plays a critical role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the latest estimates, 59 million children are out of school, and 38 million people die annually from non-communicable diseases – broadband can reduce these dramatic numbers by making education and lifelong learning, as well as public healthcare, more available, accessible and, potentially, equitable.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, co-vice chair of the commission said: “Investment in infrastructure for the roll-out of broadband worldwide remains a major challenge that requires a more concerted effort and innovative public-private partnerships if we are to connect everyone, everywhere.

“I am also alarmed that we are seeing indications that the digital gender divide is growing, not shrinking. Given everything we know about the importance of women’s access to digital technology, and what it means for the next generation. This is most regrettable. I urge government and industry to adopt a zero tolerance policy towards gender digital divides.”

Prior to the annual meeting, the commission issued the latest edition of its State of Broadband report, a global snapshot of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by country data measuring broadband access against key advocacy targets set by the commission in 2011.

The report confirmed that according to latest ITU figures, by end 2016 3.5 billion people will be using the Internet, up from 3.2 billion last year and equating to 47% of the global population.

Progress in the 48 UN-designated Least Developed Countries has been encouraging, with the commission’s target of 15% of the LDC population online expected to be reached by the end of this year.

In total, there are now 91 economies where over 50% of the population is online, up from 79 in 2015, the report said.

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