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Every pledge counts: 360+ promises closer to #MeaningfulConnectivity featured image

Every pledge counts: 360+ promises closer to #MeaningfulConnectivity

By Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau

Five billion. That’s the number of people online today.

Thirty years. That’s how long it has taken us to get from zero to five billion.

That’s remarkable. And yet the newly launched Global Connectivity Report from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) tells us we cannot be satisfied. It tells us that the potential of digital connectivity is still largely untapped.


First, because 2.9 billion people remain offline, deprived of the enormous opportunities offered by the online world.

Second, because among those 5 billion we count as online, many only enjoy very basic connectivity.

And third, because we simply cannot wait another 30 years to connect everyone who is not yet connected.

An already unacceptable world of digital ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ has become even less acceptable in the wake of the global pandemic. COVID-19 has dramatically increased the cost of digital exclusion and contributed to deepening economic and social inequalities. How can a child engage in remote learning with only a basic mobile device on an unreliable, costly 3G connection – presuming she or he even had one?

So, where do we go from here? Bottom line: we need to shift the narrative. We need to put ‘universal and meaningful connectivity’ at the very centre of digital development. We need to make it the imperative for this Decade of Action.

Universal meaningful connectivity means the possibility for everyone to enjoy a safe, satisfying, enriching, productive, and affordable online experience. Put simply, it means being able to do whatever we want online, whenever we want.

Only this type of connectivity can empower people to make material improvements to their own lives, and the lives of their children and communities.

We’ve analysed thousands of data points from ITU’s rich dataset, to see how far we are from achieving meaningful connectivity for all. The short answer is: very far.

There are digital divides across and within countries, between men and women, between youth and older persons, between cities and rural areas, between those who enjoy a fibre connection and those who struggle on a spotty 3G connection, and between the technology savvy and those who fall victim to the Internet’s dark side.

Enter the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition!

In the five years since the last ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC), the promise of digital technologies has come far, but the truly transformational power of digital technologies to change the world has yet to be realized.

While 1.5 billion new users came online since our last WTDC in Buenos Aires in 2017, we are simply not shifting the dial fast enough to reach the world’s hardest-to-connect communities.

We now have only seven years remaining in the United Nations Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Meanwhile, one third of humanity is yet to use the Internet, and many hundreds of millions more struggle daily with costly, slow, unreliable, and hard-to-access connections.

It’s time for us to move from collective will and vision to concrete action, to find innovative ways to move the needle and meet the challenge of connecting the entire world. And not just connecting, but meaningfully connecting. That’s why ITU created the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition.

The road to USD 20 billion and connecting the unconnected

From 20 September 2021 to 10 June 2022, an incredible 364 pledges have been made by 196 entities worth over USD 24.15 billion – and the numbers are still going up. I could not be prouder of what has been achieved in these past nine months.

The global community has really stepped up and answered the call to connect the unconnected, and the variety of pledges is staggering! From pledges to scale up affordable access and build people’s digital skills, to reinforcing crucial connectivity infrastructure in remote and rural areas and putting policies in place to try and close the many different digital divides.

Taken together, these Partner2Connect commitments represent a giant leap forward in making meaningful connectivity a reality for everyone, everywhere.

What’s your pledge?

While our first Partner2Connect Digital Development Roundtable has now concluded, our collective commitment to connecting the world is stronger than ever.

To keep momentum going, I encourage digital leaders everywhere to join the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition. Every pledge counts, and no pledge or action is too small.

So, let’s join forces to connect the unconnected, and ensure that everyone, everywhere gets the chance to benefit from the transformational power of meaningful connectivity by 2030.

So that no one, anywhere is left behind by being left offline.

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