• Home
  • News
  • Small Island Developing States need digital connectivity for resilience
Small Island Developing States need digital connectivity for resilience featured image

Small Island Developing States need digital connectivity for resilience

The world’s Small Island Developing States (SIDS) will need advanced connectivity and the latest digital technologies to overcome daunting economic development and climate challenges.

The Partner2Connect Digital Coalition (P2C) led by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is helping to boost island connectivity through pledges from leading tech companies, development banks, international donors, and national governments.

Since its launch in 2021, P2C has mobilized nearly 900 pledges worth over USD 46 billion for connectivity projects worldwide. Those include 132 pledges worth USD 25 billion that directly target at least one Small Island Developing State.

“More than a third of the pledges for SIDS come from SIDS government entities, highlighting the spirit of ownership within SIDS,” said ITU Deputy Secretary-General Tomas Lamanauskas. “However, strong private sector involvement is needed to deliver transformative investments.”

SIDS conference preparations

Companies and organizations actively implementing SIDS pledges gave progress updates on 2 April in New York, at a special P2C gathering on the occasion of the Second Preparatory Committee Meeting ahead of SIDS4: the 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States.

This United Nations conference, set to take place on 27-30 May in St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda, aims to help SIDS chart their course toward resilient prosperity.

ITU – the UN agency for digital technologies – organized the P2C session in cooperation with the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS) and the UN’s Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS).

Measuring digital development

Cosmas Luckyson Zavazava, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, presented statistics from ITU’s newly published Facts and Figures: Focus on Small Island Developing States.

“Ahead of the SIDS4, our goal is to provide stakeholders with accurate data to inform their discussions and decisions,“ Zavazava said. “Digital connectivity is crucial in mitigating the challenges faced by SIDS, enabling access to information, facilitating communication, and creating economic opportunities.”

Public-private cooperation

The session underscored the importance of accountable digital investment and collaboration between the public and private sectors.

ZTE: Tech infrastructure for the hardest-to-connect countries

Telecommunications leader ZTE Corporation has pledged to construct USD 400 million worth of tech infrastructure annually for the world’s hardest-to-connect countries, including Small Island Developing States. ZTE has installed integrated solar power solutions on over 30 per cent of its sites in Fiji to boost electricity supply and reduce climate impact.

“ZTE is proud to partner with P2C in its mission to enhance SIDS resilience and prosperity through universal connectivity and digital transformation,” said Summer Chen, the company’s Vice President and General Manager of Branding & PR Strategies.

Microsoft: Boosting accessibility in clinics and schools

Tech multinational Microsoft is partnering with Kacific Satellites to expand high-speed Internet access to 10 million people across the Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Timor L’Este, and Vanuatu − starting with priority access for schools and healthcare clinics.

The partnership has already provided connectivity to two rural schools in Timor L’Este to assist students with speech developmental challenges. Now equipped with Internet, the schools can utilize WiFi-enabled cloud-based services – including an OpenAI-powered speech and learning disabilities application developed by Microsoft.

Another partnership involving Jamaica’s telco IslandNet is expanding connectivity to “community anchors” including health clinics and schools.

“For Microsoft, meaningful connectivity is about everyone having access to affordable Internet, to affordable devices, and the digital skills to use them,” said Christopher Sharrock, Microsoft’s Vice-President of UN Affairs and International Organizations. “It is essential to put people, not infrastructure, at the centre of how we think about these problems”, he added.

IDB: Digital infrastructure mapping

Digital transformation is also becoming a priority for the Inter-American Development Bank (IBD), according to Antonio Garcia Zaballos, the IBD’s Lead Specialist Telecommunications Broadband Platform Coordinator. But it requires connectivity, as well as digital and data infrastructure − and it needs to be delivered fast and be inexpensive.

The IBD is therefore developing a digital infrastructure mapping tool to estimate gaps for social services such as schools, hospitals e-government services, as well as how to improve the productivity of small-island countries. The tool could also help to estimate socio-economic benefits from digital infrastructure deployment.

“For small islands, having such a platform is going to be instrumental,” said Zaballos, adding: “The IBD is working with every Caribbean country to define and design national connectivity plans.”

Government of Vanuatu: Telecom infrastructure rollout and first-ever sharing tower

The Government of Vanuatu has pledged to forego import duties and value-added tax (VAT) on universal access projects. The aim is to expand the roll-out of telecommunication coverage throughout the country, said John Jack, the government’s Deputy Chief Information Officer.

With an additional P2C policy pledge, the government aims to unlock potential for education and digital literacy and local communities. “As part of the ITU Smart Islands programme, we’ve already trained over 2000 people in the rural communities,” explained Jack.

The project area now features Vanuatu’s first infrastructure sharing tower. “All operators are welcome to use the tower,” said Jack. “We look forward to rolling out more of these infrastructure sharing towers in areas that are not profitable to operators,” he added.

Different societies with common challenges

SIDS are a highly diverse group in terms of size, distances, and levels of economic development. Yet for all of them, digital development runs into challenges due to small-scale economies and comparative isolation from global markets.

Lamanauskas from ITU said he had witnessed this first-hand while working in the telecommunications industry in the British Virgin Islands and Vanuatu.

Additionally, many SIDS are disaster-prone due to volcanoes and earthquakes as well as cyclones and hurricanes. Accelerating climate change has increased those risks, while rising sea levels threaten many island communities with submersion.

Yet the global SIDS community is focusing on future prosperity enhanced by digital technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and the metaverse.

Lamanauskas urged SIDS to “remain active contributors to international discussions on digital development,” including the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and ITU’s AI for Good. “Only by being at the policy table can SIDS ensure their specific needs are given due regard in the context of global digital development and cooperation initiatives.”

ITU and UN partners are set to hold the key WSIS+20 Forum High-Level Event in Geneva, Switzerland, on 27-31 May, in parallel with a planned AI Governance Day on 29 May and the next AI for Good Global Summit on 30-31 May. “These fora will be another opportunity to make sure that digital technologies are harnessed for the benefit of everyone, including SIDS,” Lamanauskas added.

Header image credit: Adobe Stock

Related content