The ITU UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development examined new financing models that would help accelerate ‘meaningful universal connectivity’ on the sidelines of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Today, an estimated 3.6 billion people remain offline. The majority of the unconnected live in least developed countries, where an average of just two out of every ten people are online.
The Commissioners agreed that targeted efforts are needed to lower the cost of broadband, as well as innovative policies to finance the rollout of broadband infrastructure to unconnected populations. Collaboration among diverse stakeholders will be key to making universal and meaningful connectivity a reality for all.
“We are on the verge of a new era that requires quick, effective and innovative financing instruments to connect the remaining unconnected. The old ways can no longer work in this era and we can no longer afford having anyone left behind,” said Paula Ingabire, Minister of ICT and Innovation, Republic of Rwanda, representing President Paul Kagame, who Co-Chairs the Commission.
Dr Carlos M Jarque moderated the session while also representing the Commission’s co-chair, Mr Carlos Slim. Dr Jarque stated, “the Broadband Commission has contributed to a shift from the perception of ‘broadband as a luxury’ to ‘broadband a basic infrastructure’, and in certain countries, even broadband as a human right. As we move ahead the Commission has twofold responsibilities; first, to improve the digital experience of those already online and second, to promote actions that will bring the remaining 3.6 billion people online.”
“Expanding avenues for investment in information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure has always been one of my priorities,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “As we enter a new decade, the last decade to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we need new incentives and financing solutions to create environments that are conducive to investment in ICT.”
‘Meaningful universal connectivity’ encompasses broadband that is available, accessible, relevant and affordable, but also that is safe, trusted, user-empowering and leads to positive impact. It also advocates the need to go beyond ‘business as usual’ policy prescriptions and projects, and towards more collaborative models based on resource sharing and holistic approaches.
Commissioners and participants also examined ways to address the digital investment gap, policies and incentives for investors and other digital industry stakeholders, and what innovative financing models can be scaled up to expand infrastructure.
Among the models highlighted is the ITU UNICEF School Connectivity project, also known as the ‘GIGA’ initiative. It aims at bringing connectivity to every school in every village around the world to empower young people with the digital skills they need to flourish in the digital economy. The GIGA initiative is anchored in the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation’s findings which state, that by “2030 every adult should have affordable access to digital networks” and calls for “a broad, multi-stakeholder alliance, involving the UN to create a platform for sharing digital public goods.”
The GIGA initiative has four pillars:
- Map connectivity of every school and use it to show where connectivity demand is, and use new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) to create a real-time map of school locations and their connectivity level.
- Finance a Common Bid that aggregates connectivity demand in schools (pooled across multiple countries) and creates a cost-forecasting model to make connectivity more affordable.
- Connect every school to the Internet and create a monitoring system to oversee the level and quality of connectivity delivered by internet service providers.
- Empower young people with skills by investing in, and scaling up, open source solutions that – with connectivity – will be available to children, teachers and administrators.
”Digital technologies can dramatically improve the lives of people and communities and deliver on the promise of the United Nations Agenda 2030 to leave no one behind,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau. “Multi-stakeholder collaboration and partnership will be key to connecting the 3.6 billion people still off-line. We all have to work together and increase our efforts to bring technology to the people, in every area and every walk of life.”
The Broadband Commission launched the ‘Broadband Transforming Lives’ campaign at the Davos meeting to mark its 10th Anniversary this year. The campaign aims to showcase the power of broadband on all aspects of people’s lives.
This is the sixth time that the Broadband Commission has held a session bringing together a myriad of stakeholders attending the World Economic Forum.
Ongoing work of the Commission
The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development was established in 2010 by ITU and UNESCO with the aim of boosting the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda, and expanding broadband access in every country as key to accelerating progress towards national and international development targets. Led by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helù of Mexico, it is co-chaired by ITU’s Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. It comprises over 50 Commissioners who represent a cross-cutting group of top CEO and industry leaders, senior policy-makers and government representatives, and experts from international agencies, academia and organizations concerned with development.