Broadband holds potential to bridge global development gap


When it comes to shaping new digital frontiers, Broadband is surely regarded as an enabling medium through which new age technology and devices can be funneled through communities and sets of users. In such a scenario, Access to broadband could be the  universal catalyst that lifts developing countries out of poverty and puts  access to health care, education and basic social services within reach of all,  according to the UN Broadband  Commission for Digital Development, which met in Dublin this weekend.

The Commission reiterated its call to International community to recognize  the transformational potential of high-speed networks and ensure broadband  penetration targets are specifically included in the UN post-2015 Sustainable  Development Goals.

It also urged governments and international financing bodies to work to  remove current barriers to investment. Globally, as much as 95% of  telecommunications infrastructure is private sector-funded, but better  incentives are urgently needed if investment is to expand in line with the  coming exponential growth of connected users and so-called ‘Internet of Things’  data streams.

In the world’s 200 biggest cities, the number of connected devices is  forecast to increase from an average of 400 devices per square kilometre to over  13,000 devices per square kilometre by 2016.

Established in 2010, the Commission is a top-level advocacy body which  focuses on strategies to make broadband more available and affordable worldwide,  with a particular emphasis on accelerating progress towards the eight UN Millennium Development Goals.

In his welcoming remarks, Rwanda’s President Kagame noted that broadband and  ICTs can deliver more efficiency in education, health, finance, banking and  other sectors. “In Rwanda, the broadband model we have adopted is based on  effective public private partnership, guided by what works on the ground,” he  said. “This has allowed broadband and ICT to continue to play an important role  in the progress we have made towards the achievement of the Millennium  Development Goals.” Rwanda is currently rolling out a nationwide 4G mobile  broadband network through a public private partnership.

Kagame urged commissioners to go beyond infrastructure and work to ensure its  use: “Our initial focus was on connectivity: to put the infrastructure and tools  in place to connect citizens to the digital era. Onwards, our efforts need to  focus on unleashing the smart use of broadband to help people use services in  ways that will significantly improve their lives.”

Uptake of ICT is accelerating worldwide, with mobile broadband recognized as  the fastest growing technology in human history. The number of mobile phone  subscriptions now roughly equals the world’s total population of around seven  billion, while over 2.7 billion people are online. Active mobile broadband  subscriptions now exceed 2.1 billion – three times higher than the 700 million  wireline broadband connections worldwide.

Most encouragingly, most of this progress has taken place in the developing  world, which has accounted for 90% of global net additions for mobile cellular  and 82% of global net additions of new Internet users since early 2010, when the  Commission was set up.

“That translates to 820 million new Internet users and two billion new mobile  broadband subscribers in developing countries in just four years,” said ITU  Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, who urged Commissioners to consider  defining a Broadband for MDGs Acceleration Framework which could be presented  for endorsement to the UN Secretary-General at the next meeting of the  Commission in New York in September, ahead of the UN General Assembly. “For the  first time in history, broadband gives us the power to end extreme poverty and  put our planet on a new, sustainable development course,” he said.

In 2011, the Commission set four ambitious broadband policy and access targets. The seventh meeting of  the Commission, held in Mexico City in March 2013, added a fifth target  mandating ‘gender equality in broadband access by the year 2020’, aimed at  redressing gender imbalances in access to information and communication  technologies.

“Broadband can be an accelerator for inclusive and sustainable growth, by  opening new paths to create and share knowledge, by widening learning  opportunities, by enhancing freedom of expression,” said UNESCO’s Irina Bokova.  “But this does not happen by itself, it requires will and leadership, and this  is why the Commission matters.”

In addition to broadband and UN sustainable development goals, the agenda of  the Dublin meeting covered the changing role of telecom operators and content  providers, and innovative solutions for rolling out rural broadband. The  gathering also included a meeting of the newly-formed Working Group on Financing  and Investment, held on Saturday 22 March.

At that meeting, Commissioners discussed the urgent need for new strategies  to finance the massive new investment in telecoms networks needed to cope with a  forecast huge surge in mobile data volumes.

Last September at the eighth meeting of the Commission in New York, the group  released the second edition of its global snapshot of broadband deployment,  entitled The State of Broadband 2013 Universalizing Broadband, featuring  country-by-country rankings based on access and affordability. In that report,  Ireland ranked 35th out of 183 economies for fixed broadband access, 19th out of  170 economies for mobile broadband access, and 31 out of 192 economies in terms  of percentage of inhabitants using the Internet (79%).

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