Partner Perspective

ITU report: need for people-centred solutions to achieve universal connectivity

More than a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, amid global demand for broadband services, the ITU’s Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development has reaffirmed its call for digital cooperation, innovation with information and communication technologies, and collaborative approaches to secure universal connectivity and access to digital skills.

Remco Takken September 29, 2021
The State of Broadband/ People Centred Approaches for Universal Broadband

​​ITU’s Broadband Commission’s State of Broadband Report 2021​ outlines the impact of pandemic policies and calls for a concerted, people-centred push to close the world’s persistent divide. In the world’s least developed countries (LDCs), no more than a quarter of the population is online. “Digital cooperation needs to go beyond access to broadband,” said H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Co-Chair of the Commission. “We also need to close the gap in the adoption and use of affordable devices and services, in accessible content, and in digital literacy.” Commission co-Chair Carlos Slim, Founder of Carlos Slim Foundation and Grupo Carso, added: “To achieve our universal connectivity goal, we need to work together. We need to build a digital future that is inclusive, affordable, safe, sustainable, meaningful and people centred. We need to support infrastructure and to deal with affordability and relevant content to ensure usage. For that to happen, it requires concerted efforts.”

Connectivity centred on SDGs

The ITU’s Annual Fall Meeting, held in a virtual format, underscored the need to accelerate digital connectivity to fulfil the United Nations Agenda for 2030, centred on 17 Sustainable Development Goals. “The absence of digital skills remains the largest barrier to Internet use,” noted Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and co-Vice Chair of the Commission. “Digital education must therefore be as much about gaining skills as about developing the ability to think critically in order to master the technical aspects and be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood.” She added: “UNESCO’s Media and Information Literacy curriculum, launched in Belgrade, Serbia, in April, provided a key tool to boost skills.” Despite progress on Internet access and adoption, more effort is needed to ensure success and concrete movement towards the global 2030 targets. Additional investment and inclusive, open partnerships can advance progress towards universal broadband. In turn, they will accelerate economic growth, help alleviate poverty, impact social development, and address climate change. Policy and regulatory actions will encourage and incentivize greater investment and Internet adoption. Additionally, they will also address inequitable access sparked by market failures.

Concerted effort required

Putting individuals at the centre as we build digital infrastructure and progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires concerted effort. This will involve moving beyond mindsets focused on technological fixes, and focusing on those user issues that limit adoption – socio-demographics, skills, affordability, relevance, content and trust. Efforts are required to direct funding to address the challenges of the unconnected. As new waves of innovation in digital infrastructure go mainstream concerted efforts must be made to ensure these developments particularly benefit low- and middle-income countries as well as developed countries. This report details the current state of play, lessons learned from the pandemic, progress on meeting the Broadband Commission’s 2025 targets & the SDGs, and policy recommendations for a people-centred approach to achieving universal connectivity by 2030. Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Commission co-Vice Chair, warned that the pandemic had further exacerbated the global digital divide. “I’m concerned that digital technologies and services, which have proven 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,” he said. “I was pleased to see that the State of Broadband report calls for additional investments to advance progress towards universal access.”

Dowwnload The State of Broadband 2021 here