Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development advances efforts to connect the world’s nearly four billion “other half”

Global leaders convene to leverage broadband to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

See the published press release on the ITU website

Broadband technology is critical to connecting the 3.8 billion people around the globe who still do not have access to the Internet—the world’s “other half.” This is according to more than 60 participants from United Nations agencies, governments and the broadband industry, who came together in New York City today at the annual fall meeting of the United Nations Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development. The global group of key influencers and decision-makers met parallel to the 73rd Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations also taking place in New York City.

Connecting the “other half” of the world was a resounding call to action echoed by participants, including the Co-Chairs and Co-Vice Chairs of the Broadband Commission.

H.E. President Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, and Co-Chair of the Broadband Commission said: “We are preparing to mark a new milestone where half of the world’s people are accessing the Internet. While this growth is not spread evenly across the world’s regions, it is nonetheless an encouraging development. With more people online, we need to think through how everyone can access the digital content safely and fairly. To take full advantage of the latest technological innovations, we have to adapt rapidly, including more innovative approaches to policy and regulation. The best way to handle this is through close collaboration among the key stakeholders, from government, the private sector, and the research community.”

Mr Carlos Slim, President of the Carlos Slim Foundation, América Móvil and Co-Chair of the Broadband Commission, said: “Broadband is transforming all sectors and activities of our society. But many rural areas are still not connected to the Internet. Governments and regulators need to make universal connectivity a main priority for sustainable development.”

Mr Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), who serves as Co-Vice Chair of the Broadband Commission said: “I am pleased to say that the Commission goes from strength to strength. This year saw the launch of our updated global broadband targets to bring online the world’s 3.8 billion people currently not connected to the Internet, at the Special Session in Davos in January attended by many of you, as well as Heads of UN agencies and industry CEOs. The Commission’s targets track some of the most important policy priorities in broadband, and will play an important role in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

Ms Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), who serves as Co-Vice Chair of the Broadband Commission said: “We are reaching an important milestone with half of the population online. But advantages of internet access are not shared equally. Access to Internet is not enough in itself to improve livelihoods. We must put emphasis on digital skills and knowledge”

Mr Houlin Zhao welcomed several new Commissioners at the meeting including:

  • Mr Bocar Ba, Chief Executive Officer, SAMENA Telecommunications Council
  • Mr Marcin Cichy, President, Office of Electronic Communications, Poland
  • Ms Kristalina Georgieva, Chief Executive Officer, World Bank
  • Dr Hessa Al Jaber, Chairperson, Qatar Satellite Company
  • Mr Rob Shuter, Group Chief Executive Officer and President, MTN Group Ltd.
  • Mr Hans Vestberg, Chief Executive Officer, Verizon Communications

The meeting comprised two substantive sessions examining the 50/50 moment of half the world being online and the changing face of information and communication technologies regulation.

Three Working Groups of the Broadband Commission presented reports at the meeting:

The Working Group on Digital Entrepreneurship, chaired by Andrus Ansip, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner on the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, has released the report Digital Entrepreneurship, which looks at the challenges and opportunities for using digital entrepreneurship to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Drawing on a wealth of desk research, internal debate and broad stakeholder input, the report describes “entrepreneurship” and “entrepreneurial ecosystems” as four wheels that must be set in motion: 1) infrastructure and macro-economic fundamentals; 2) policy support; 3) e-Commerce; and 4) governance. The study sets out a nine-point roadmap with targets and points of reflection for increasing the spread, reach and effectiveness of digital entrepreneurship to deliver lives that are healthier, wealthier, longer and more peaceful.

The Working Group on Digital Health, co-chaired by The Novartis Foundation and Intel Corporation, has launched the report The Promise of Digital Health: Addressing Noncommunicable Diseases to Accelerate Universal Health Coverage in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. The report provides practical recommendations and best practice examples for how policy-makers can use readily available digital technologies to address noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart and lung disease, cancer and diabetes. According to the World Health Organization, NCDs killed 41 million people in 2016, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The report highlights that properly addressing NCDs is essential to achieve Universal Health Coverage, which means all people receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship.

The Working Group on Epidemic Preparedness, chaired by KT Corporation, has launched the new report Preventing the Spread of Epidemics using ICT. The report provides practical recommendations and best practice examples for how policy-makers can use readily available and innovative ICTs to prevent the spread of epidemics such as SARS, MERS and Ebola. Numerous cases of fatal outbreaks of epidemics have massively and negatively affected humanity and the global economy, resulting in high health risks and economic losses. Properly and securely utilizing data, establishing an integrated global epidemics monitoring ICT platform, and expanding global governance are essential to help prevent the spread of epidemics effectively.

In addition, new Working Groups were proposed.

Mats Granryd, Director General of GSMA, presented the annual update of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Bridging the Digital Gender Divide commitments made by its members. From now on, these updates will be the responsibility of the Equals Global Partnership.

The Broadband Commission welcomed the participation of Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill, Executive Director of the Secretariat of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, and looks forward to further collaboration with the Panel Members.

Prior to this annual meeting, the Commission issued the 2018 edition of its flagship State of Broadband report on 11 September, a unique global snapshot of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by-country data for over 160 economies worldwide measuring broadband access against key sustainable development targets set by the Commission. This year’s report shows that more and more governments now benchmark broadband status in their national plans; and for the first time, the report shows that at least 15 countries now have strategies in place for promoting the safe use of artificial intelligence.

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