Broadband Commission highlights role of digital technology in globe’s future

​​​​​Digital technologies should provide the foundation for education and capacity-building as communities continue to adapt to the realities created by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Broadband Commission on Sustainable Development, which met for its annual fall meeting on Sunday.

The Broadband Commission, composed of leaders from the public and private sectors, makes policy recommendations focused on broadband connectivity to accelerate progress toward the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

At the New York meeting, the global technology and development body also emphasized the need for public-private collaboration to develop national strategies to improve digital skills and promote school connectivity.

“We have made significant progress globally in ensuring universal broadband access, but much remains to be done,” said Paula Ingabire, Rwanda’s Minister of Information, Communications and Innovation Technology, who accompanied Rwandan President Paul Kagame, co-chair of the Commission, represents. “The mission of the Broadband Commission still sounds as relevant today as it did when it was founded. We must continue to strive for universal access to meaningful, safe and sustainable broadband communications services that reflect human and children’s rights. Public-private partnerships remain a key strategy to achieve this goal.”

Advocacy goals targeting broadband development

To mobilize efforts to achieve universal connectivity – the international goal of connecting all of humanity to the Internet – the Broadband Commission is placing broadband connectivity at the forefront of global policy discussions. The Commission’s 2025 Advocacy Targets focus on providing policy and programmatic guidance for national and international action on broadband development.

About 2.7 billion people – a third of the world’s population – still have no access to the Internet, and even fewer people enjoy reliable broadband access, according to the latest statistics from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

With just three years left to meet the Commission’s seven targets, the autumn meeting sought to fill the remaining gaps in achieving universal broadband connectivity.

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“The successful expansion and rapid deployment of high-speed connections over the past few decades, and particularly the last two years of the pandemic, has transformed our daily lives, our societies and our economies,” said Commission Co-Chair Carlos Slim. “However, digital services that have proven so important during this crisis are still out of reach, too expensive or complicated to use for too many people around the world.”

The role of technology in education

During the meeting, convened ahead of the United Nations Transforming Education Summit to open the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, the Commission called for universal, inclusive and affordable connectivity for the digital transformation of education.

“Accelerating broadband for the new realities of a rapidly changing world is as important as it is timely,” said Catherine M. Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF and Commissioner of the Broadband Commission, who hosted the meeting. “Three years since UNICEF and ITU launched the Giga initiative with this group of commissioners, we have connected more than 2 million children to the internet. However, the global learning crisis remains real and the pandemic has made it worse. The Transforming Education Summit is a rare opportunity to drive new commitments and investments in innovation so we can reach every child.”

Smaller companies can make big contributions

The meeting also examined innovative approaches to increasing the affordability of access to digital services and devices – including for home working and learning – with a focus on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and the most vulnerable populations. The approaches examined took into account the current economic environment.

“I am pleased that MSMEs feature prominently in this year’s State of Broadband report,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, deputy vice-chair of the commission. “Innovation doesn’t just come from big industry. Start-ups and entrepreneurs are important contributors in this area and we should continue to work to ensure greater involvement of small businesses in the overall work of the ITU.”

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A forum for multi-stakeholder engagement

More than 40 commissioners and representatives attended the Broadband Commission meeting, which was attended by government leaders as well as heads of international organizations, private sector companies, civil society and academia. Special guests also attended, including Amandeep Singh Gill, UN Envoy for Technology, and Rabab Fatima, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS).

Among other things, participants discussed how connectivity and technological innovations enable rapid adaptation to hybrid education; empowering learners through open educational resources and data; capacity building of officials for effective digital transformation; and providing platforms to strengthen the literacy needed to navigate digital spaces.

State of Broadband Report 2022

At the meeting, the Broadband Commission presented its annual State of Broadband Report, which focuses on the changing realities of the pandemic era.

According to the report, COVID-19 has sparked a surge in internet usage, but universal connectivity challenges remain. The report also examines four key barriers to achieving universal connectivity: lack of skills, lack of access, lack of equipment, and lack of funds to pay for the necessary equipment.

Addressing the ongoing digital divide and achieving the Commission’s advocacy goals will require policies, strategies and an enabling regulatory environment, the report says. This environment should promote affordable, meaningful, secure and inclusive broadband services and attract the large investments needed.

“The need for broader access to useful broadband in this new world has never been more urgent,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU’s Telecoms Development Office and Executive Director of the Commission. “We need the right regulatory environment and the right strategies and policies. “

Commissioners leading working groups on smartphone access and AI capacity building presented findings and recommendations from their final reports. In addition, the preliminary results of the interim discussion paper of the working group “Data for Learning” were presented.

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During the meeting, Mr. Zhao, whose second term as Secretary-General of the ITU ends this year, was presented with a certificate of appreciation for his commitment to bringing broadband to the top of the global policy agenda and supporting digital collaboration to become universal connectivity.

Note to the editor

Established in 2010, the Broadband Commission promotes a multi-stakeholder approach to digital collaboration by seeking to align internet and connectivity growth with the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Commission is recognized for publishing the annual State of Broadband Report and more than 30 thematic research and advocacy reports covering topics such as digital health, education, online safety and the inclusion of vulnerable populations.

About the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development was established in 2010 by the ITU and UNESCO with the aim of raising the profile of broadband on the international political agenda and expanding broadband access in every country as a key to accelerating progress towards national and international development goals. Led by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helù of Mexico, it is co-chaired by ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao and UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay. It consists of over 50 commissioners representing a cross-sectoral group of top CEOs and industry leaders, senior policymakers and government officials, and experts from international agencies, academia and organizations concerned with development. Learn more at:

About ITU

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