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Gathering at the spring annual session of the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, more than 50 commissioners, who comprise government leaders, heads of international organizations and private companies, civil society and academia, discussed how to leverage digital cooperation to build an inclusive post-COVID digital future for all, amidst glaring inequalities in access to connectivity.  

The commissioners of the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development advocated the need for innovative financing mechanisms, impactful partnerships, bold decision-making and holistic approaches to capacity and content development to make the best use of broadband Internet.

“Thanks to the Commission's efforts over the past ten years, we have managed to establish a vision of Internet connectivity as a global common good," noted Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Co-Vice Chair of the Commission.

She underscored that the ongoing pandemic “has reminded us how inequalities are amplified by unequal access to, and mastery of, digital technology. This is especially true for educational inequalities. Of the 1.5 billion learners unable to attend school at the peak of the crisis last year, around 46 per cent lived in homes without Internet access."

“This pandemic makes the urgency of universal connectivity very clear," said Carlos Slim, Co-Chair of the Commission. “We have nearly half of the world population without the right connectivity. We know what to do and how it can be done. The financing of fixed fibre and wireless networks should be done by the carriers, the tower corporations together with the newcomers.

Governments and regulators should be the promoters of connectivity development with a plan for connectivity for everyone everywhere." 

The Commission's Co-Chair, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, said: "As work and school life has increasingly migrated online, the contrast between the digital haves and have-nots is even more blatant. Now is the time to forge new partnerships for universal broadband and scale up the investments required to ensure digital equity."

The commissioners discussed multiple forms of digital disparity, including access to Internet, affordability, literacy, and the relative lack of content in local languages. In calling for digital solutions and services tailored to meet the needs of users, communities and businesses, they noted that digital access and skills are essential to bring people, communities, businesses and classrooms online, and to ensure that everyone can benefit equally from digital opportunities and services.

The UNESCO Director-General highlighted the Broadband Commission's focus on digital learning, addressing online disinformation, and the launch of UNESCO's new Media and Information Literacy curriculum in April this year.