How the Broadband Commission is working to ensure meaningful connectivity for all

Today, more than half of the world’s population is using the Internet.

Around the world, the percentage of people using the Internet is on the rise, with the fastest growth reported in Africa (from 2.1 percent in 2005 to 24.4 per cent in 2018). Mobile access to basic telecommunication services is becoming more and more important while fixed broadband subscriptions continued to increase.

This represents a promising trend toward building an inclusive digital society. However, many challenges remain.

Many of those still offline are living in rural, remote communities where connectivity is difficult, often because of the terrain, but also because the return on investment in those areas is often poorer than the urban areas. Even when connectivity is available, high prices and lack of relevant content and digital skills prevent many people from using the internet — and reaping the benefits of today’s digital economy.

A ‘whole-of-government’ approach

At the World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2019 last week, a special session organized by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development focused on the important work being done in collaboration with partners to ensure that the digital transformation leaves no one behind.

Several Commissioners, including Mr. Marcin Cichy (President of the Office of Electronic Communications, Poland), Dr. Ann Aerts (Head of the Novartis Foundation), Mr. Bocar Ba (CEO of Samena Telecommunications Council), and Mrs. Doreen Bogdan-Martin (Director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau & Broadband Commission Coordinator) joined the interactive panel discussion to provide insight into the workings of the partnership.

“The increasing importance of multi-stakeholder cooperation is reflected in the encouraging global trend towards a whole-of-government approach to digital development,” said Mrs. Bogdan-Martin. “Through such an approach, we hope we will make faster progress towards the Commission’s 7 key connectivity targets, faster progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and faster progress towards improving the livelihoods of individuals and the prosperity of economies worldwide.”

Dr. Ann Aerts, who co-chaired a Working Group on digital health, mentioned digital health as one of the best examples of public and private partnership. The demands placed on the global health system are daunting, but digital health is a promising solution, and a driver in transforming health systems, she said. It is a crucial means to deliver healthcare in an empowering, efficient, simple, and cost-effective manner, she added.

Mr. Ba discussed the important work of the Broadband Commission in advocating for the establishment of National Broadband Plans. Today, more than 156 countries now have a broadband plans. “We now need to measure the impact: What have we done right, done wrong, and how can we adjust?” he said.

Mr. Marcin Cichy emphasized the importance of the cooperation within the Broadband Commission. As a platform for high level debates and conversations, Mr. Cichy highlighted this multi-stakeholder environment as key to finding solutions and advocating for broadband in development.

Panelists agreed that in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, it will not be business as usual – strong partnerships will be required to implement new models of thinking. The Commissioners emphasized that we must find mechanisms to ensure that all sectors of society (public & private) are included, the consumer’s demand is adhered to, and that business models are sustainable and people-centered.

Broadband Commission session at e-Commerce Week

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development also held its annual session recently at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development eCommerce Week to discuss these issues and more with experts from the information and communication technology (ICT) industry, international organizations and governmental bodies.

The session discussed the theme of Trusted universal connectivity and innovative partnership to drive inclusive digital transformation with panellists from some of the Broadband Commissioners’ organizations: Mr. Lars Erik Forsberg DG CONNECT, European Commission, Mr. James Howe, International Trade Centre, Mr. Ashley Lumsden, Huawei Technologies UK & Ireland Office and Ms. Imme Philbeck, SAMENA Telecommunications Council. Ms. Nancy Sundberg and Ms. Anna M. Polomska from the ITU Broadband Commission Secretariat moderated the discussion.

Connecting the other half will not be business as usual. It will require stakeholders to be more innovative, more collaborative, more inclusive, more people-centric.

From different perspectives, each of the panelists stressed the importance of advancing connectivity in a meaningful and trusted manner.

Looking at the whole picture

They highlighted the need to look at the whole picture of ICT connectivity, from both the supply and the demand side, encompassing all the different barriers and enablers of digital services and e-commerce such as: infrastructure, affordability of access and cost of services, digital skills and literacy, trust and privacy as well as locally relevant content that are essential to enhancing consumer demand.

The session opened with a presentation of the Broadband Commission, reflections on its Global Advocacy Targets 2025 and insights into the findings and recommendations from its State of Broadband annual flagship report.

Key issues highlighted

Among the key issues and insights were highlighted by the panelists were:

  • the importance of having the right policy, legal and regulatory framework needed for digital services to thrive;
  • investment required to connect the remaining half, including content tailored to their needs;
  • the lack of services responding to local needs as one of the barriers to e-commerce.

RELATED: Measuring the Information Society Report 2018 shows big progress, big gaps

To move forward, innovative partnerships are key for the future of connectivity; international cooperation and capacity building between regional organizations such as the European Union and the African Union should be fostered; intelligent technology should be made affordable to all in a commercially sustainable manner.

Participants agreed that connecting the other half would not be business as usual. It will require stakeholders to be more innovative, more collaborative, more inclusive, more people-centric.

This year’s UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week discussed the theme ‘from digitalization to development,’ which provided an opportunity to extend the dialogue to the trade community on the role of ICTs in promoting sustainable development.

Since its inception, the Broadband Commission has been advocating for broadband technologies to be put at the service of people fostering sustainable development.

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development is a top-level advocacy body and a multi-stakeholder partnership set up by ITU and UNESCO in 2010.

Featured photo by Sergei Malgavko \ TASS via Getty Images