Strategic Goal Two: Bridging the Digital Divide
Telecommunications are increasingly mobile and high-speed, offering greater functionality,
while their growth continues unabated. It took the world 125 years to accumulate one billion fixed lines, but the first
billion mobile subscribers were achieved in just 21 years, until 2002. Since then, the boom in mobile telephony has
continued and, by mid-2007, there were as many as 3 billion mobile subscribers. The number of Internet users worldwide
grew to 1.2 billion by the end of 2006, with around 280 million broadband Internet subscribers worldwide in 2006.
However, seven-tenths (70 per cent) of these are located in high- income countries.
Strategic Goal Two
Assisting in bridging the national and international digital
divides in ICTs, by facilitating interoperability, interconnection and global connectivity of networks and services, and
by playing a leading role, within its mandate, in the multi- stakeholder process for the follow-up and implementation of
the relevant WSIS goals and objectives.
The transformation of the industry with more mobile and higher-speed forms of access brings a new dimension to ITU's
efforts to assist in bridging the digital divide and promote easy and affordable access to ICTs for all. The ability to
communicate freely is vital for a more equitable, prosperous and peacefulworld. ICTs are also vital tools for development, and promise the most immediate means of boosting progress to achieve
the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. However, the uptake of new technologies is uneven among countries,
resulting in new forms of digital exclusion. ITU is working to mobilize the technical, financial and human resources
needed to bridge the national and international digital divide in ICTs.
“ICTs are a major force for development in
the modern economy, but many people still remain unconnected. ITU-D is working in partnership with Member States, Sector
Members and other committed stakeholders to empower as many people as possible through wider access to ICTs in all
regions of the world.”
Sami Al Basheer
Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau
Connect Africa Summit
In 2007, a key initiative was launched by ITU to bridge the digital divide, in the Connect Africa Summit.
In line with its role as WSIS Action Line C2 facilitator (“information and communication infrastructure”), ITU brought
together governments, industry, development banks and international organizations, in Kigali, Rwanda, on 29 and 30
October 2007 in an effort to mobilize the human, financial and technical resources needed to expand access to ICT
infrastructure across the continent. The Summit united more than one thousand participants from 54 countries, including
six Heads of State and Government. Forty-three African countries were represented. It was organized by ITU, the African
Union, the World Bank Group and the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development, in partnership with the African Development Bank, the African Telecommunications Union (ATU),
the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Global Digital Solidarity Fund. At the Summit, planned
spending and expected investments totalling some USD 55 billion were announced, which will help accelerate the
implementation of WSIS connectivity goals and the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Summit examined issues
related to broadband ICT networks, rural connectivity, capacity-building, applications and services and an enabling
“We are ... fully aware that the benefits of the information technology revolution are today unevenly distributed
between the developed and developing countries and within societies. We are fully committed to turning this digital
divide into a digital opportunity for all, particularly for those who risk being left behind and being further
WSIS Geneva Declaration of Principles, Paragraph 10.
ITU is now working closely with its partners to achieve key objectives which emerged from the Summit in Kigali,
interconnecting all African capitals and major cities by 2012. Based on the success of this new model in Africa, the
Connect the World initiative will be extended to other regions.
In order to be able to monitor the progress of efforts to bridge the digital divide, it is vital to be able to track the
digital divide. ITU's Market Information and Statistics (STAT) Division maintains the global World
Telecommunication Indicators Database, recognized as the main source of worldwide and internationally comparable
ICT/telecommunication statistics. ITU conducts extensive research and analysis based on its data to monitor progress and
WSIS implementation in bridging the international digital divide (Figure 1).
Disparities in the ability of developing countries, relative to developed countries, to access, implement, contribute to
and determine international standards in ICTs are known as the “standardization gap”. The topic “Bridging the
standardization gap between developed and developing countries” was introduced with Resolution 123 at the Marrakesh
Plenipotentiary Conference, 2002, although concerns over the issue date from much earlier. The standardization gap
contributes to the persistence of the wider digital divide in ICTs, because one of the underlying causes of the digital
divide is unequal access to technology and uneven ability and knowledge to implement and use that technology. ITU will
be developing implementation guidelines, tutorials, and capacity-building programmes to ensure sustainability in the
development of ICTs.
A special effort is underway through ITU-T's “Technology Watch” function to research new and emerging technologies in
terms of the impact that they are likely to have on developing countries and their standardization needs. A new series
of “Technology Watch Briefing Reports” have been published, with the first studies reviewing intelligent transport
systems, ICTs and climate change and “telepresence” or high-performance video-conferencing. Research is also being
carried out into collaboration tools to allow “being there without going there”, which will help in the remote
participation of experts from all regions in ITU events. ITU-T is fully committed to organizing regional Forums to
contribute to reducing the standardization gap and thus the digital divide.