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Broadband Commission marks progress
Photo credit: ITU

In a new report, the Broadband Commission for Digital Development urges governments around the world to move more quickly to formulate and implement national multi-sectoral broadband plans – or risk being seriously disadvantaged in today’s increasingly high-speed digital environment. The report, the second in just one year of the Commission’s existence, was released on 6 June 2011 at the Commision’s third meeting, hosted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at its headquarters in Paris. ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova are Vice-Chairs of the Broadband Commission.The Co-Chairs are President of Rwanda Paul Kagame and Carlos Slim Helú, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso.

      Hamadoun I. Touré Dr Hamadoun I. Touré
ITU Secretary-General
Irina Bokova Irina Bokova
UNESCO Director-General
Carlos Slim Helú Carlos Slim Helú
Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso
Mo Ibrahim Mo Ibrahim
Founder and Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation
Dr Seang-Tae Kim Dr Seang-Tae Kim
President of the National Information Society Agency, Republic of Korea
Stephen Conroy Stephen Conroy
Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
Suvi Lindén Suvi Lindén
Finland’s Minister of Communications
Jeffrey Sachs Jeffrey Sachs
Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General for the MDGs and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, United States
Adama Samassékou Adama Samassékou
President of the International Council of Philosophy and Human Sciences
Shashi Tharoor Shashi Tharoor
Member of Parliament, India

Major new report

Entitled “Broadband: a Platform for Progress”, the report describes why broadband is so valuable in driving economies and societies forward, how these networks can be created and what services they deliver*. Significant policy issues are considered too, along with an overview of the status of broadband around the world.

The report includes links to more than one hundred studies that indicate the positive effects of broadband deployment upon a nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), as well as on growth in productivity and the creation of jobs.

Cost savings and improvements to the quality of life are detailed in a chapter on the services that broadband can deliver, such as e-health, e-education and e-government. The potential impact of broadband on efforts to tackle vital issues such as climate change are covered in sections on smart electricity grids, smart cities and smart communities.

Because of the fundamental nature of broadband in supporting economies and societies, a trans-sectoral approach needs to be adopted for expanding networks, in order to make the best use of resources. The report stresses that national broadband strategies, involving all stakeholders, have potentially huge multiplier effects that bring benefits to all.

What is important is for all stakeholders to work together, within a framework that promotes facilities-based competition and with policies encouraging service providers to offer access on fair market terms. “Broadband: a Platform for Progress” details the infrastructure options for these networks, and advocates the sharing of infrastructure, wherever possible. It also emphasizes that barriers restricting access to networks or services must be made as low as possible.

Creating knowledge societies

Ms Bokova emphasized the need to create “Knowledge Societies” that are truly inclusive of all citizens. She explained that UNESCO has identified four key principles for development of these societies: freedom of expression; universal access to information; respect for cultural and linguistic diversity; and high-quality education for all.

“Broadband has a fundamental role in supporting the achievement of these goals. But for this to happen, we must transform information into knowledge that can support individual, social and economic development, including institutional and political transformation,” Ms Bokova said. “It’s all about partnership,” she added.

Ms Bokova led one of the meeting’s two roundtable sessions, on broadband and education and specifically on empowering women and young people in least developed countries (LDCs).

During the discussion, Commissioner Mo Ibrahim, Founder and Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, pointed to the need to educate people everywhere in how to use information and communication technologies themselves. “The real barrier is not infrastructure, but literacy. The impediment is not wires and switches,” he said.

Dr Seang-Tae Kim, Broadband Commissioner and President of the National Information Society Agency, Republic of Korea, gave the example of very successful use of e-education in his country. As well as being used for remote locations, “it has been adopted even within the regular curriculum in 81.4 per cent of educational institutions, including nearly 89 per cent of primary schools,” he said. In total, more than 21 million people have taken part in digital literacy training programmes in the Republic of Korea.

Building networks

The practicalities of funding the deployment of broadband — especially in developing countries and in sparsely populated areas — was the topic of a second roundtable session, moderated by Dr Touré, on broadband business models.

“In many countries there are still too many obstacles in the way of faster and more inclusive deployment of broadband. In many sectors there is still not a clear model on how to adopt broadband to improve services for the benefit of all. In many areas, living conditions are not getting better, but worse, creating a poverty cycle that becomes ever-harder to break,” noted Mr Slim.

“We have to look at best practices worldwide and bring together all the players of digital development: government and regulators; carriers; suppliers of equipment and devices; application and content developers; and — most importantly — end users, the people who stand most to benefit from our work,” he said.

Commissioner Stephen Conroy, Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, stressed that, in addition to the private sector, governments have an essential role to play in facilitating the growth of connectivity. “Under the National Broadband Plan, the Australian government is investing AUD 37 billion and will be taking advantage of the digital dividend (of newly released radio-frequency spectrum) through auctions and so on,” he said.

During a lively debate, Dr Touré suggested setting up a Broadband Commission working group on business models. The idea was supported and will be considered further.

Working groups

The Broadband Commission has already established eight working groups, each chaired by a Commissioner. They focus on: climate change; public-private partnerships; health; LDCs; youth; multilingualism; education, and science. The meeting received reports from each group on its activities.

Speaking on behalf of the working group on education, for example, Ms Bokova stressed the need to focus on gender issues and Africa. “Peer-to-peer networks for both teachers and students could be a valuable tool,” she said.

The working group on LDCs was cheered by the decision of the UN Conference on LDCs, held in Istanbul from 9–13 May 2011, to set a goal of 100-per-cent access to the Internet by 2020. Commissioner Suvi Lindén, Finland’s Minister of Communications, told the meeting that the working group on public-private partnerships had discussed connectivity, affordability and availability of broadband for all countries. “To this we need to add security as the fourth pillar,” she commented.

Commissioner Jeffrey Sachs reported that the group on health had discussed two main targets for 2015, the date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): elimination of transmission of HIV from mother to child; and increasing the number of community healthcare workers by one million worldwide. As well as being a Broadband Commissioner, Professor Sachs is a Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General for the MDGs, and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, United States.

Commissioner Adama Samassékou, President of the International Council of Philosophy and Human Sciences (Cipsh), said that the working group on multilingualism for the Internet was studying a proposal and timetable for a World Summit on Multilingualism, perhaps in 2017. And on behalf of the working group on youth, Dr Touré explained that the collective vision of the group had been distilled into five golden rules for broadband networks and applications: educate according to culture; protect me and my data; create adaptive legal frameworks; think across borders; and do not limit access.

Targets for the future

Measuring progress on deploying broadband networks to every community requires clear benchmarks, related particularly to the achievement of the MDGs.

Commissioner Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, India, emphasized the need to have concrete numbers. He suggested creating a new global broadband development index.

Mr Slim noted the importance of digital literacy, and said measurement of broadband progress “should be independent of wireline, wireless, or other technology constraints — what’s important is the quality, the price, and the availability of access.”

The meeting agreed that the Broadband Commission should publish targets for launch at its next meeting, which would take place on 24–25 October in Geneva, alongside ITU Telecom World 2011.

“Now we must start making a difference where it really counts: in the homes and the lives of the billions of underserved people everywhere,” declared Dr Touré in wrapping up the meeting. “So let’s get to work, and play our part in creating a bold broadband future!”


All photos in this article are by Danica Bijeljac/UNESCO, unless indicated otherwise


* The full report and its Executive Summary can be freely downloaded under the “Outcomes” section at


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