UN Broadband Commission: Time for a “New Deal” if Broadband is to reach everyone, everywhere
The UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development held its 2017 Spring Meeting in Hong Kong, SAR of China this week, and committed to concrete actions that will spur the roll-out of broadband around the world. Currently, some 5 billion people are without mobile broadband access, meaning that the paths to access digital services and applications are currently blocked for much of the world's population, thereby holding back progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The need for a new deal between all broadband stakeholders was roundly debated, bringing renewed commitment to work towards full global connectivity and digital transformation. In particular, emphasis was placed on remote and rural areas - especially to support Least Developed Countries - which represent the biggest challenge and where barriers to access also need to be viewed through the prism of affordability and content, notably local and multi-lingual content.
Co-Chair of the Broadband Commission, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda highlighted that, "ICT and broadband are linking everyone and everything for the betterment of economies and societies. We are motivated by wanting to have the global community connected, especially the billions of unconnected. We will succeed when we work together: government, industry and civil society leaders."
Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of ITU and co-Vice Chair of the Broadband Commission, stated that: "Our central conviction is that broadband and ICTs are critical if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. ICTs underpin vital achievements and modern services in many sectors, and governments and industry must increasingly work together to create the conditions so badly needed to facilitate the growth of broadband for sustainable development."
The 2030 Agenda provided the context for discussion. Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General and co-Vice Chair of the Broadband Commission, noted "The framework for all our work is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We must ensure the digital revolution is a revolution for human rights and promote technological breakthroughs as development breakthroughs."
The importance of scaling efforts in digital education and mobile learning was a priority which received full support and agreement from Commissioners. In advance of UNESCO's Mobile Learning Week, many singled out education as one of the most fundamental areas for action where the Commission can drive effective change.
A recurrent issue under discussion was the need to strike a workable balance between investment and taxation for the benefit of all members of society, in order to promote human development and sustainable growth while spurring innovation. On top of this are issues associated with the cost of spectrum auctions, often in key markets where the digital divide is most prevalent.
The Commission, underlined the need to build an ecosystem with government, with all ministries and the private sector working together for more efficient investment and taxation, to empower individuals and communities. In this respect, the Commission committed to work more closely with Ministries of Finance to promote the development potential of broadband.
In the run-up to the day-long meeting of the Commission, there was a series of four Working Group meetings focused on a range of broadband-related issues, notably: the digital gender divide, education, space technologies, and a new pilot initiative to monitor the pace of digitalization in regulatory frameworks at the national level.
Comprised of leaders from government, industry, international organizations and academia, the Broadband Commission was established in 2010 as a top-level advocacy body promoting broadband as an accelerator of global development. The Commission is chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Mexico's Carlos Slim Helú. In September 2015 it was re-named the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development with the specific purpose of working to help achieve, through the power of broadband connectivity, the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Commission's Spring Meeting 2017 was hosted by Huawei Technologies which also includes a visit to Huawei headquarters in Shenzhen.