As part of a shared effort to Connect the World, ITU is launching a new flagship initiative called Connecting Villages to help expand access to affordable connectivity – including voice and SMS/text services – in rural and remote areas.
Recognizing the important catalytic role of ICTs for social and economic development, leaders at the World Summit on the Information Society established an ambitious set of connectivity targets to help achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015. As the UN specialized agency for ICT, ITU was mandated as the lead facilitator for ICT infrastructure development, including collaborative efforts to achieve the WSIS connectivity targets.
In recent years, many developing countries have experienced remarkable improvements towards these connectivity targets largely due to that the enormous growth in mobile services. While this progress has been critical to helping bridge the digital divide, it has been largely confined to the 2.5 billion mostly urban consumers world-wide. The challenge now lies in providing affordable, basic connectivity for the people living in rural and remote areas.
Connecting Villages will apply innovative low-cost solutions, while leveraging flexible bottom-up business models and public-private partnerships to reach the remaining unconnected.
As a guiding principle, Connecting Villages aims to build practical, affordable and sustainable networks and services for rural and remote communities. To achieve this, all relevant partners will be engaged, including network operators and service providers, equipment manufacturers, governments (at all levels), regulators, local entrepreneurs and the communities involved.
Once constructed, responsibility for the community-level network and business functions will be managed locally, building cost-effective connectivity village by village. Established operators may opt to employ local people to manage access within each village, or local entrepreneurs may license the mobile access rights for their surrounding area.
The following outcomes are expected for each participating country:
- Establishment of several trial sites to provide proof of concept, shortly following the project launch;
- Improvement of policy and regulation to accelerate the development of rural communications and provide business opportunities for local entrepreneurs;
- Development of locally-relevant mobile applications and content; and
- Extensive roll out of rural communications in selected countries, following successful trial results.
Each partner will have a clear set of roles and responsibilities:
- ITU will provide project management staff, technical experts, administrative support, and coordination;
- Industry Connectivity Partners will provide equipment, experts and financial support;
- Local Mobile Operators will make availablesupporting infrastructure and facilities including, but not limited to: electricity (e.g. solar power), telecom towers, connection to their mobile network; and,
- Government/Regulator will ensure a supportive policy and regulatory environment, as well as provide administrative support (i.e. authorizations, customs/duty exemptions etc) and possible funding, using sources such as Universal Service Funds.