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Broadband playing increasingly important role in development: Report

NEW DELHI: Broadband technologies are today driving substantial transformation in many development-related sectors including health, education, financial inclusion and food security, making them a key accelerator towards achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), says a new report released by the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.

The report, The State of Broadband 2017: Broadband Catalyzing Sustainable Development, has been released just ahead of the Commission’s fall meeting in New York City on 17 September, and amid the UN General Assembly taking place 12-25 September, also in New York.

Issued annually, The State of Broadband report is a unique global snapshot of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by-country data measuring broadband access against key advocacy targets set by the Commission in 2011.

“Broadband is crucial to connecting people to the resources needed to improve their livelihoods, and to the world achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, who serves as co-Vice Chair of the Commission with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

“The goals for education, gender equality and infrastructure include bold targets for information and communication technology. The State of Broadband 2017 report outlines how broadband is already contributing to this and makes valuable recommendations for how it can increase this contribution into the future,” added Zhao.

The report also examines global trends in broadband connectivity and technologies, reflects on policy and regulatory developments, as well as the applications of broadband for sustainable development. It also presents several policy recommendations.

Promoting investment in broadband connectivity from a broad range of sectors, the report notes, can help achieve the full potential of these technologies and bring the world closer to the goal of an inclusive digital society accessible by all.

Growing digital inequality between developed and developing countries

While 48% of the global population is now online, some 3.9 billion people still do not have access to the Internet – with the digital gap growing between developed and developing countries. According to estimates, Internet penetration in the developing world is projected to reach 41.3% by the end of 2017, while Internet user penetration is projected to reach only 17.5% in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in 2017.

Gender divide

Men continue to outnumber women in terms of Internet usage worldwide, though women now outnumber men in Internet usage the Americas. Recent studies, though, show that the disparities in gender access are becoming wider in developing countries, especially in Africa.

Quality of connection & ‘under-served’ people

Only 76% of the world’s population lives within access of a 3G signal, and only 43% of people within access of a 4G connection. Unless people have the opportunity to migrate from 2G to at least 3G to 4G and beyond, they will remain under-connected.

Affordability of broadband

Fixed and mobile broadband services are becoming progressively more affordable in a large number of countries. However, there are many challenges to making Internet access affordable for developing countries, in part due to the high costs of satellite access and fibre-optic cables. The consumers most affected by high costs of Internet access are those in landlocked countries.

Investments in ICT infrastructure

Over the last year, there has been impressive growth in the number of new Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), an important form of support infrastructure that can potentially help reduce latency and cut transit costs. The growth of IXPs in Africa over the last year is remarkable. Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Rep. of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sudan and Zimbabwe all established an IXP over the last twelve months to mid-2017.

ICTs for SDGs

The benefits of broadband for food security, health and wellbeing, inclusive education and the environment are real and increasing. Broadband technologies, along with the digital literacy skills to use them, enable people, groups and communities to create their own solutions, states the report.

UN Global Pulse has worked with the World Food Programme (WFP) to assess the potential of using mobile-phone data to develop real-time indicators of food security.

WHO reports that 73 of 116 (63%) of its Member States have defined national digital health strategies and corresponding plans to implement them, although close to 40% of countries have yet to develop a digital health strategy.

UNESCO has successfully conducted projects in Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and Senegal to advance and deliver teacher development through mobile phones.

Innovative tracking technologies, including unmanned aerial vehicles are being tested to monitor wildlife in protected areas in southern Africa – including Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

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