The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development addresses this Open Statement to the 5th United Nations Conference of the Least Developed Countries (LDC5) convening every 10 years and held in 2022 at a critical time, as the final decade of action for the 2030 agenda gathers pace.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical need for broadband technologies. However, as the world continues to embrace digital business practices and services, progress towards digital inclusion is slow, especially in LDCs. Closing the digital divide by mainstreaming digital skills and by providing affordable infrastructure, devices and services is critical to the sustainable development of the LDCs. The time is now to accelerate impactful change.
The Commission is convinced that achieving universal and affordable connectivity is essential for meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and to ensure no-one is left behind in the hardest-to connect communities. In line with the Universal Connectivity Manifesto and the UN Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the Broadband Commission is calling on governments, the private sector, NGOs and civil society to join forces for the LDC5 Conference in making concrete pledges and putting forward initiatives towards connectivity through existing platforms, including Partner2Connect Digital Coalition and the Digital for Development Hub (D4D Hub). These policy, financial, advocacy and programmatic commitments could help tackle barriers to digital inclusion to incentivize infrastructure deployment and localized services in LDCs.
For more than a decade, the Commission has been advocating through our Global Broadband Targets 2025 to expand broadband infrastructure and provide the unconnected and under connected populations around the world with accessible, affordable, and meaningful connectivity, access and use.
According to the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) and UN-OHRLLS report Connectivity in the Least Developed Countries, launched in 2021, a lack of awareness of what the internet is, is the largest barrier to adoption. Other critical barriers include affordability and digital skills in LDCs, these should be jointly addressed by public and private stakeholders to reduce usage gaps significantly and rapidly. In the world’s 46 LDCs, only 27% of the population is online. In 2020, 56 developing economies (including 4 LDCs) achieved the target of maintaining an expenditure of less than 2% monthly GNI per capita entry level services for mobile broadband, while this remained unaffordable in 84 countries. A significant gap remains between uptake and targets – which underlines an urgent need for policies that prioritize demand-side challenges and address barriers to Internet adoption. There is also a need to address specific barriers to women’s internet adoption, as a significant digital gender divide persists, particularly in LDCs.
It is the goal of the Broadband Commission to realize universal connectivity, as stated in its Universal Connectivity Manifesto.
Reaching this goal for LDCs “will require collective, collaborative efforts by all stakeholders” to:
(1) Establish a baseline for universal digital connectivity,
(2) Identify and support public-private financing of universal broadband
(3) Advocate for enabling ICT regulatory environments, capacity building & online safety.
To reach this goal, Broadband Commissioners have developed a number of recommendations on addressing key barriers to achieving universal connectivity to ‘build back better with broadband’ and support LDCs in their digital transformation process for sustainable social and economic development.