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June 12, 2020

Here’s how ITU contributes to digital cooperation worldwide

By ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao

*The following article is an adapted version of my statement today at the UN Dialogue on the Implementation of the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.

The UN Secretary-General’s new Roadmap for Digital Cooperation is a significant milestone in achieving better digital cooperation globally. It comes at a time when the need to cooperate to address today’s COVID-19 crisis and prepare for recovery is more important than ever before.

On yesterday’s launch of this new Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the UN Secretary-General called on all of us to join forces to connect all people by 2030.

I am pleased that the Secretary-General highlighted the need to mitigate online harms and rising digital security threats, especially for the most vulnerable amongst us. ITU is fully committed to answering this call to action, so that together we can achieve universal, safe, inclusive, and affordable access to the Internet for all by the end of the decade.

ITU looks forward to strengthening cooperation with all interested stakeholders, including the future Tech Envoy to be designated by the UN Secretary-General in 2021. We welcome the Report’s recognition of ITU’s valuable contribution to today’s digital transformation and reaffirm our commitment to transforming this digital revolution into a development revolution for all.

155 years of cooperation across borders

Cooperation between government and industry has driven the work of ITU for 155 years. It is at the heart of the important work ITU is doing to harmonize the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, to develop global standards on communication technologies and services, and to assist developing countries with infrastructure and policy development.

Let us seize this moment to increase digital cooperation, across borders and sectors, and accelerate the development of digital society.

Cooperation among ITU Members and partners, including sister UN agencies, is also central to ITU’s multi-stakeholder response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the UN Secretary-General emphasized just yesterday and said in a video message for World Telecommunication and Information Society Day last month, “international cooperation on digital technology is essential to help defeat COVID-19 and achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

Leaving no one behind

Leaving no one behind is at the core of the 2030 Agenda. Yet today, only half of the world’s population is using the Internet. Hundreds of millions of new users have come online every year during the last decade, most of them in the emerging world. But overall growth is slowing.

With the GIGA partnership, ITU, UNICEF, and others have committed to connecting every school to the Internet − and every young person to information, opportunity, and choice.

I noted that an estimated 53.6% of the world’s population used the Internet in 2019, an increase of 4.3% compared with 2018. Now is the time to review our strategy and business models, based on the lessons learnt from COVID-19, to speed up the development of digital society and accelerate progress toward bridging the digital divide.

We have entered the Decade of Action. With 10 years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and 3.6 billion people around the world still unconnected, ITU is redoubling its efforts to leave no one offline.

Redoubling our efforts

Let me give you a few concrete examples.

ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 that was held in Egypt pre-lockdown achieved important agreements – including, for example, the identification of various frequency bands for high altitude platform stations on a global basis, the adoption of a new milestone-based regulatory framework for the deployment of non-geostationary satellite systems, and the identification of additional spectrum for 5G and other new services.

This conference has opened new opportunities for people in underserved communities and in rural and remote areas where most of the unconnected live.

We have all seen how important remote learning has been during the coronavirus crisis. With the GIGA partnership, ITU, UNICEF, and others have committed to connecting every school to the Internet − and every young person to information, opportunity, and choice. This initiative supports the Roadmap’s goals for universal connectivity at the national, regional, and international levels.

The lack of infrastructure is a major barrier to universal connectivity, and that is why creating better environments for investment in ICT infrastructure and promoting an enabling regulatory environment are among my key priorities. To that end, I am pleased to announce that ITU will launch prior to the G20 Digital Ministerial meeting in July the Connecting Humanity to the Internet by 2030 study, which analyzes the investments needed to achieve universal, affordable broadband by 2030 in all countries of the world. Next month, we will also release a Last-Mile Connectivity Toolkit.

The UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development set up by ITU and UNESCO turns 10 this year – at a time when only a decade remains for the global community to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. The 2020 State of Broadband Report provides an important venue to reflect on progress made in directing broadband internet deployment for global social development and economic progress.

Affordability will be key

There are other barriers to universal connectivity, however, including the lack of affordability. A new ITU ICT Price Trends report shows that even as average prices are broadly continuing to fall, broadband services can still be too expensive for the poorest consumers.

I am pleased that the Roadmap highlights the need to provide affordable access to digital networks to every adult by 2030, and the importance of trusted metrics to measure progress. ITU is committed to analyzing and establishing a baseline of digital connectivity that individuals need to access the online space, as well as a definition for ‘affordability’ with universal targets and metrics.

Let me finally mention capacity building.

ITU welcomes the Roadmap’s acknowledgement of the need for digital capacity building as an absolute prerequisite for achieving real and sustained progress, including in terms of universal affordable access.

As noted in the Roadmap, ITU has been teaming up with UNDP to implement an initial mapping of existing digital capacity-building initiatives to assess gaps and inform forward-looking solutions. Building on this effort, ITU is ready to work with UNDP to help in the creation of a Joint Facility for Digital Capacity Development to help provide services in areas ranging from digital readiness to digital literacy and skill training.

Let us seize the moment

Let us seize this moment to increase digital cooperation, across borders and sectors, and accelerate the development of digital society.

Let us redouble our efforts and learn from the lessons of COVID-19 to ensure that ICTs are beneficial to all and that no one is left behind.

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Here’s how ITU contributes to digital cooperation worldwide

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