Broadband can solve the global development gap
Broadband must be recognized as the vital development enabler in post-2015
UN Sustainable Development framework, says Dublin meeting of UN Broadband
Dublin, 23 March, 2014 – Access to broadband could be the
universal catalyst that lifts developing countries out of poverty and puts
access to health care, education and basic social services within reach of all,
according to the UN Broadband
Commission for Digital Development, which met in Dublin this weekend.
The Commission reiterated its call to International community to recognize
the transformational potential of high-speed networks and ensure broadband
penetration targets are specifically included in the UN post-2015 Sustainable
It also urged governments and international financing bodies to work to
remove current barriers to investment. Globally, as much as 95% of
telecommunications infrastructure is private sector-funded, but better
incentives are urgently needed if investment is to expand in line with the
coming exponential growth of connected users and so-called ‘Internet of Things’
In the world’s 200 biggest cities, the number of connected devices is
forecast to increase from an average of 400 devices per square kilometre to over
13,000 devices per square kilometre by 2016.
The Commission, which
some of the world’s most prominent leaders from the tech sector, government,
academia and UN agencies. gathered in Dublin at the invitation of Denis
O’Brien, Chairman of the Digicel Group and one of the founding members of the
Established in 2010, the Commission is a top-level advocacy body which
focuses on strategies to make broadband more available and affordable worldwide,
with a particular emphasis on accelerating progress towards the eight
UN Millennium Development Goals.
It is chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Mexico’s Carlos Slim
Helú, with ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré and UNESCO
Director-General Irina Bokova as co-Vice Chairs.
“The long-sought panacea to human poverty may at last be within our reach in
the form of broadband networks that empower all countries to take their place in
the global economy, overcoming traditional barriers like geography, language and
resource constraints,” said O’Brien, whose companies provide mobile services in
some of the world’s most challenging environments and disadvantaged countries,
such as Haiti and Papua New Guinea.
To drive faster broadband roll-out, O’Brien called on governments to lower
spectrum license fees and advocated for the establishment of a ‘champion’s
league’ index that tracks best practice in broadband investment and deployment.
In his welcoming remarks, Rwanda’s President Kagame noted that broadband and
ICTs can deliver more efficiency in education, health, finance, banking and
other sectors. “In Rwanda, the broadband model we have adopted is based on
effective public private partnership, guided by what works on the ground,” he
said. “This has allowed broadband and ICT to continue to play an important role
in the progress we have made towards the achievement of the Millennium
Development Goals.” Rwanda is currently rolling out a nationwide 4G mobile
broadband network through a public private partnership.
Kagame urged commissioners to go beyond infrastructure and work to ensure its
use: “Our initial focus was on connectivity: to put the infrastructure and tools
in place to connect citizens to the digital era. Onwards, our efforts need to
focus on unleashing the smart use of broadband to help people use services in
ways that will significantly improve their lives.”
Uptake of ICT is accelerating worldwide, with mobile broadband recognized as
the fastest growing technology in human history. The number of mobile phone
subscriptions now roughly equals the world’s total population of around seven
billion, while over 2.7 billion people are online. Active mobile broadband
subscriptions now exceed 2.1 billion – three times higher than the 700 million
wireline broadband connections worldwide.
Most encouragingly, most of this progress has taken place in the developing
world, which has accounted for 90% of global net additions for mobile cellular
and 82% of global net additions of new Internet users since early 2010, when the
Commission was set up.
“That translates to 820 million new Internet users and two billion new mobile
broadband subscribers in developing countries in just four years,” said ITU
Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, who urged Commissioners to consider
defining a Broadband for MDGs Acceleration Framework which could be presented
for endorsement to the UN Secretary-General at the next meeting of the
Commission in New York in September, ahead of the UN General Assembly. “For the
first time in history, broadband gives us the power to end extreme poverty and
put our planet on a new, sustainable development course,” he said.
In 2011, the Commission set
four ambitious broadband policy and access targets. The seventh meeting of
the Commission, held in Mexico City in March 2013, added a fifth target
mandating ‘gender equality in broadband access by the year 2020’, aimed at
redressing gender imbalances in access to information and communication
“Broadband can be an accelerator for inclusive and sustainable growth, by
opening new paths to create and share knowledge, by widening learning
opportunities, by enhancing freedom of expression,” said UNESCO’s Irina Bokova.
“But this does not happen by itself, it requires will and leadership, and this
is why the Commission matters.”
In addition to broadband and UN sustainable development goals, the agenda of
the Dublin meeting covered the changing role of telecom operators and content
providers, and innovative solutions for rolling out rural broadband. The
gathering also included a meeting of the newly-formed Working Group on Financing
and Investment, held on Saturday 22 March.
At that meeting, Commissioners discussed the urgent need for new strategies
to finance the massive new investment in telecoms networks needed to cope with a
forecast huge surge in mobile data volumes.
“The MDGs constitute the attainment of basic human rights for billions of
people around the world,” noted Carlos M. Jarque, who attended the meeting as
the representative of Co-Chair Carlos Slim. “The MDGs and emerging Sustainable
Development Goals are the foundation for eliminating extreme poverty in the
third decade of this new century. It is a fact that broadband can make a
tremendous contribution towards their attainment. But in many countries, the
telecommunication infrastructure now needs to be doubled every year. No other
sector is facing a similar capex investment challenge. We need to identify
viable new operating and financing models.”
Last September at the eighth meeting of the Commission in New York, the group
released the second edition of its global snapshot of broadband deployment,
The State of Broadband 2013 Universalizing Broadband, featuring
country-by-country rankings based on access and affordability. In that report,
Ireland ranked 35th out of 183 economies for fixed broadband access, 19th out of
170 economies for mobile broadband access, and 31 out of 192 economies in terms
of percentage of inhabitants using the Internet (79%).
Watch a Video Interview with Denis O’Brien:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtUMA-hlvkk Broadcast journalists can obtain
an HD copy of this interview on request. Please contact Sarah Parkes at
+41 79 599 1439.
Read the 2013 edition of ITU’s
State of Broadband Report, featuring country-by-country rankings based on
access and affordability for over 160 economies.
Photos of the full meeting of the Commission can be freely downloaded from
Flickr at: http://bit.ly/ND4YAk
For more on the Broadband Commission, visit:
Follow the Broadband Commission on Facebook:
Follow the Broadband Commission on Twitter:
For more information, please contact: