"Digital Cooperation during COVID-19 and beyond"
Webinar #1: Connectivity - Situation Assessment
Opening remarks of Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director, Telecommunication Development, ITU
(by remote participation)
09:30-11:00 New York/15:30-17:00 Geneva, 15 April
Dear Fabrizio, dear colleagues,
I think one of the things the unprecedented events of the past few weeks have dramatically illustrated is the vital, essential importance of connectivity.
For those of us joining remotely today, technology is helping ensure that our lives can continue as normally as possible, and helping ensure that our important work can continue, even if we cannot be physically present.
Technology is helping us stay connected to loved ones, and helping our children pursue their education.
Most vitally of all, it is helping the world's health workers deal with a global challenge unlike any before seen in our lifetimes, and helping medical researchers collaborate - across national borders, and around the clock - on the urgent search for a vaccine.
Today's first session of this webinar series is focused on our need for a global connectivity assessment. Never has this been so crucial.
ITU figures reveal that 3.6 billion people remain totally cut-off from the internet.
And I suspect even that shocking figure might prove to be a conservative one.
Right now, even in my own home country of the US, birthplace of the Net and one of the most connected countries on the planet, industry regulator, the FCC, is embarking on a remapping exercise that aims to extend broadband to over 20 million US households that remain unconnected.
What's more, last year's State of Broadband report from the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development highlighted the fact that so many of the people we count as 'connected' actually lack the speeds, devices and affordability of service that would make this connectivity meaningful to their lives.
Added to this is the additional COVID19-related strain on ICT networks caused by surging traffic levels and changing usage patterns, which is putting to the test the very connectivity we would consider more than sufficient in normal circumstances.
Today, none of us participating in this meeting could manage any aspect of our lives without the Internet.
So before we kick off our discussions, I want to remind all of us that, right now, every second person on the planet has to manage without that vital lifeline.
We privileged few need to remind ourselves how profoundly transformational an internet connection can be.
And to remember that that transformative potential is magnified many times over in the hands of people held back for generations through lack of access to the power of information.
We in the international community share the conviction that all people must enjoy equal access to the same opportunities.
And in the 21st century, leaving no-one behind meansmeaningful access to digital technologies.
UN Secretary-General Guterres reinforced the importance of ICTs through his High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation.
I believe that word 'cooperation' is key.
Together with our sister agencies, ITU is playing a key role in the follow-up activities resulting from this panel. As co-Champions of Expert Roundtables on Recommendation 1A, Global Connectivity, and Recommendation 2, Digital Help Desk, we are actively leading multi-stakeholder discussions on bridging the digital divide through capacity building. This webinar series is just one tiny example of this ongoing joint effort.
COVID19 is a wake-up call.
A wake-up call to all of us about the vital importance of getting - and keeping - the world connected, and on using the power of technology to improve our preparedness, our mitigation strategies, and our collective community response.
And a wake-up call on why we need to dramatically accelerate efforts to bring unconnected people and communities online.
As soon as we have put this crisis behind us, we need government and industry to urgently cooperate on a global 'big dig', to get those without access connected as fast as possible.
Next time around, we cannot and must not be caught unawares. As US President John F. Kennedy famously said: The time to mend the roof is when the sun is shining.
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