Geneva, September 20, 2021 – More than a year and a half after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, amid relentless global demand for broadband services, the Broadband Commission for sustainable development reaffirmed its call for digital cooperation, innovation with information and communication technologies (ICT) and collaborative approaches to secure universal connectivity and access to digital skills.
The State of Broadband 2021 Commission report, released at the meeting, outlines the impact of pandemic policies and calls for concerted, people-centered action to close the persistent gap in the world. In the least developed countries (LDCs) of the world, no more than a quarter of the population is online.
“Digital cooperation must go beyond broadband access,” said HE Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Commission Co-President. “We also need to close the gap in the adoption and use of affordable devices and services, in accessible content and in digital culture. “
More than 50 commissioners and special guests, representing heads of government, heads of international organizations and companies from the private sector, civil society and academia, affirmed that people-centered solutions must be at the heart of building a sustainable path to universal broadband.
Commission co-chair Carlos Slim, founder of the Carlos Slim Foundation and Grupo Carso, added: “To achieve our goal of universal connectivity, we need to work together. We need to build an inclusive, affordable, secure, sustainable, meaningful and people-centered digital future. We need to support infrastructure and manage affordability and relevant content to ensure use. For this to happen, it takes a concerted effort. “
Connectivity for sustainable development
The annual fall meeting, held in a virtual format, underscored the need to accelerate digital connectivity to achieve the United Nations 2030 Agenda, centered on 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
“The lack of digital skills remains the biggest obstacle to using the Internet,” noted Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and co. -Vice-President of the Commission. “Digital education must therefore be as much an acquisition of skills as the development of a critical mind to master the technical aspects and be able to distinguish the true from the false.
“UNESCO’s media and information literacy program, launched in Belgrade, Serbia, in April, has provided a key tool for building skills,” she added.
A recently released Commission report on distance and hybrid learning cites the need to foster digital skills while expanding broadband infrastructure.
State of broadband 2021
Houlin Zhao, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and co-vice-chair of the Commission, warned that the pandemic has further deepened the global digital divide.
“I fear that digital technologies and services, which have proved so essential during the crisis, are still out of reach, unaffordable, irrelevant, too complicated to use or not secure enough for far too many people around the world,” did he declare. noted. “I was delighted to see that the State of Broadband report calls for additional investments to move towards universal access.”
The Commissioners – recognizing the growing role of digital technologies in all facets of economic activity – shared current strategies to drive investments in digital literacy, connectivity and skills. Discussions focused on joint actions, initiatives and practical and replicable solutions to boost broadband connectivity, boost capacity and policy development, and address persistent disparities in access, affordability, adoption and use.
Need for targeted collaboration
Other key speakers included HE Minister Abdulla Shahid, President-elect of the 76e Session of the United Nations General Assembly; Klaus Schwab, executive chairman and founder of the World Economic Forum; and Maria Francesca Spatolisano, Acting Officer in the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Technology.
In view of the massive investments required, the group discussed collaborative and innovative financing approaches to make the financing of universal connectivity “worthwhile”.
In the world’s 46 LDCs, only 25% of the population is online, noted Courtney Rattray, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for LDCs, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) and a newly appointed commissioner. He urged the Commission to prioritize connectivity in these countries ahead of the Fifth United Nations Conference on LDCs, to be held in Doha, Qatar, in January 2022.
The Commission heard progress reports from its current working groups on key topics:
– 21st Financing of the century for sustainable development
– Management of epidemics
– Digital learning
– Virtual and Data-Driven Health Working Group
The newly launched working groups will tackle other issues in the coming months:
– Smartphone access
– Capacity building in AI
– Data for learning
The new Commissioners welcomed during this fall session are the Honorable Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, HE Eng. Majed Sultan Al Mesmar, Director General of the UAE Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority; Professor Mercedes Aráoz, former Vice-President and Minister of Peru; and Dr Rumman Chowdhury, founder of Parity AI., as well as Courtney Rattray of UN-OHRLLS.