Broadband Commission Report 2016: More than half of the world’s population remains offline and the gender gap is widening
“The State of Broadband 2016: Broadband Catalyzing Sustainable Development” report was launched by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development on 15 September 2016. The report finds that global broadband connectivity shows strong growth, with 300 million more people connected in 2016 than in 2015, putting the number of people online by the end of 2016 to 3.5 billion. However, more than half the world’s population (some 3.9 billion people) remains offline. The report highlights that offline populations, who are now found in more remote, rural areas, consist disproportionately of poorer, minority, less educated, and often female, members of society.
The report traces the progress made towards achieving the Broadband Commission’s targets for broadband. Progress has been mixed. There has been good progress made towards the first target on National Broadband Plans and policy-making and also on the affordability of broadband access (second target). The Commission’s target 3 on household Internet access and 4 on Internet access in Least Developed Countries will be achieved outside of the original time frame. Regrettably, there is a retrogression for the fifth target calling for gender equality in access to broadband Internet. The overall Internet user gender gap grew by 1% between 2013 and 2016, with still 202 million fewer women than men owning a mobile phone in 2016.
For this year’s report, UNESCO contributed with a chapter focusing on knowledge cities, in light of Habitat III, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development taking place in Quito, Ecuador in October 2016. It explores the implications of ‘city smartening’ processes in urban centres. Broadband connectivity and ICTs have the potential to transform our urban lives by generating greater economic, energy, governance and mobility efficiency in our cities.
As Frank La Rue, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, highlights: “‘City smartening’ processes could, however, also represent a crucial milestone in the building of knowledge, cities by boosting urban democratic processes, using ICTs for a greater inclusion and democratic participation, offering quality education to all, empowering women and girls, and promoting cultural diversity and creativity. Broadband and ICTs are key efficiency drivers, but we need to put the human-beings at the centre of our preoccupations. We have to harness technologies to realize our Human Rights, including the freedom of expression.”
The report also explores promising new uses and applications of ICTs for development (ICT4D), including mobile, satellite, the Internet of Things (IoT), Machine-to-Machine (M2M) connectivity and Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN). This serves as a reminder that new technologies and broadband can play a vital role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. However, this holds true only if the necessary conditions to enable affordable, universal and available Internet access have been achieved and if the ‘soft components’ of the ICT roll-out such as skills development, local content in local languages, inclusive, participatory policies, institutional transparency and accountability are put in place. To promote broadband for catalyzing sustainable development, the report also offers a number of concrete policy recommendations.
Overall the report is an urgent reminder and call for action as regards ensuring that those who remain without an Internet access have the capacities and content to use the Internet to enhance their livelihood and achieve sustainable development. The report will be one of the inputs to the 14th Annual Meeting of the Broadband Commission, which will be held in New York, USA, on 18 September 2016.
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