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.” – ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao
“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,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, who serves as co-Vice Chair of the Commission with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the basis of this report, the Broadband Commission believes that policy-makers may wish to consider addressing the following key measures as a means of promoting broadband as a foundation for sustainable development.
Governments and regulators should review and update their regulatory frameworks on a regular basis to account for emerging issues and new technologies, benchmarking and comparisons with international best practices. Timely, consistent and well-enforced regulation developed in consultation with industry and other stakeholders may generally benefit operators, consumers and the domestic economy.
Defining and regularly reviewing NBPs that include approaches for achieving affordable broadband access can be helpful in aligning resources and policies within a country. Nowadays, given the move towards collaborative regulation, it may be necessary for ICT regulators to engage in more cross-sectoral collaboration and break down the silos with other Ministries and other regulators to consult on issues of cross-cutting importance, such as consumer protection and data protection.
Investment-friendly regulations can help incentivize investment, in full recognition of the benefits broadband availability for economic growth and a vibrant economy. Governments can promote competition to stimulate investment, and provide financial support for broadband investments through tax incentives, subsidized loans, universal service grants and PPPs. 5 Policy Recommendations
Policy choices can be implemented and improved on the basis of reliable data and indicators on ICT developments in countries. Statistical indicators are also essential to assess the impact of broadband policies and to track progress towards broadband goals and targets, such as the SDGs. Indicators should be identified and data collected to monitor broadband infrastructure and access, prices and affordability, and usage of services.
Policy-makers may wish to consider open access approaches to infrastructure, including infrastructure-sharing. Examples of open access arrangements include Local Loop Unbundling (LLU), wholesale broadband access, ducts and submarine cables. Previous ITU research suggests that growth in services has happened most rapidly where regulatory enablers (e.g. industry consultations, infrastructure-sharing) have been put in place to leverage the latest innovations. Although various strategies for open access exist, it is vital that policy-makers ensure that access to new facilities is provided on fair, reasonable and equivalent terms. This can also include the implementation of ‘Dig Once’ policies.