18.09.2016 - UNESCOPRESS

Connecting all to a better future

© ITU/ M. Matossian -Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General and Co-Vice Chair of the Broadband Commission, with Rwanda's President and Co-Chair of the Commission, Paul Kagama, Co-Chair Mr Carlos Slim Helú (Carlos Slim Foundation) and Mr Houlin Zhao, Co-Vice Chair and ITU Secretary-General

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova opened the 14th meeting of the Broadband Commission on Sustainable Development, with the Co-chairs of the Commission -- HE Mr. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and Mr. Carlos Slim, President of the Carlos Slim Foundation on 18 September, stressing the need for new partnerships for innovation and new multi-stakeholder platforms around Broadband to meet the promise of the 2030 Agenda, to leave no one behind.

The President of Rwanda reminded the Commission of his commitment to advancing broadband roll-out for all citizens, for more inclusive and sustainable development.

Ms. Bokova emphasized investing in access and connectivity along with relevant multilingual content, education and media skills, teacher training, with focus on reaching the unreached -- especially girls and women. "Digital adoption is not enough," said Ms. Bokova, "we need new skills and opportunities for all, to empower all, for the benefit of all."

Carlos Slim highlighted to work of the Foundation, in harnessing new ICTs for individual empowerement.

The Director-General also called for a new focus on Broadband and education, to examine these multipliers across the board. This point was echoed by Executive Director of UN Women, Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who underlined the importance of ICTs for education, building this into systems and through teacher training.

David Nabarro shared a strong message of commitment from the UN Secretary- General, calling for new participation, new partnerships and new proposals to take forward the new plan in the 2030 Agenda.

Columbia University Professor and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Sustainable Development Goals Jeffrey Sachs‎ made the case that investing in universal broadband and content must be strategic for all governments. 

The d‎iscussion followed on the need for the broadest possible approach to broadband roll-out, connecting health, education and effoerts for gender equality -- as well the imperative of bridging divides with least developed countries as well as small island developing states. The need to ‎Simplify regulatory frameworks to make them more linear for connectivity to become universal was noted.

The vital question of reaching the remaining 1.5 billion --and the financing-- was also explored during the meeting, which was held in New York, before the General Debate of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly. The experience of public-private partnerships was also explored.

In this respect, Ms Catherine Novelli, US Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, spoke to the goals of the US Global Connect Initiative.

‎The 14th meeting occurred several days after the launch of the 2016 State of Broadband Report, painting anew a picture of world connectivity.

India has overtaken the United States to become the world’s second largest Internet market, with 333 million users, trailing China’s 721 million. The report confirms that just six nations – including China and India – together account for 55% of the total global population still offline, because of the sheer size of their populations.

While Internet access is approaching saturation in richer nations, connectivity is still not advancing fast enough to help bridge development gaps in areas like education and health care for those in poorer parts of the world, according to the 2016 edition of The State of Broadband report.

Globally, an estimated 3.9 billion people are not using the Internet. But the Commission’s new report estimates that, between them, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria account for 55% of all unconnected people, while 20 countries – including the US – account for a full 75% of those not using the Internet. These findings suggest that targeted efforts in just a few key markets could help enormously in redressing the gaping ‘digital divide’ between those who are online and those still offline.

“There is a large body of economic evidence for the role of affordable broadband connectivity as a vital enabler of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, who serves as co-Vice Chair of the Commission with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. 

“Broadband technologies can be powerful development multipliers,” Director-General Bokova added, “but this requires combined investments in access and in skills and in education. This is about opening new paths to create and share knowledge. It is about enhancing freedom of expression and about widening learning opportunities, especially for girls and women. This is about developing content that is relevant, local and multilingual.”

Issued annually, The State of Broadband report is a unique global snapshot of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by country data measuring broadband access against key advocacy targets set by the Commission in 2011.

The report confirms that according to latest ITU figures, by end 2016 3.5 billion people will be using the Internet, up from 3.2 billion last year and equating to 47% of the global population. Progress in the 48 UN-designated Least Developed Countries has been encouraging, with the Commission’s target of 15% of the LDC population online expected to be reached by the end of this year.

The Broadband Commission brings together high level officials with leading executives in the private sector, from across the world, to harness the digital revolution as a development revolution, for all women and men.

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