ICT4SDG | Infrastructure
July 13, 2018

How the world’s most vulnerable countries can increase and leverage connectivity

By ITU News

The world’s least-developed countries (LDCs) can overcome challenges to providing more high-speed Internet connectivity to more of their people, according to a new report from the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Vulnerable Countries.

The report draws on case studies from four countries – Cambodia, Rwanda, Senegal and Vanuatu – to present 11 recommendations to help countries expand high-speed Internet access and unlock development benefits.

‘Ours is the challenge to ensure that nobody will be left behind.’ –Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Vulnerable Countries

High-speed Internet offers substantial gains to LDCs, says Fekitamoeloa Katoa Utoikamanu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

“It allows the most vulnerable countries to deliver, conveniently and at low cost, a wide range of vital services that were until recently beyond their reach,” she says.

Benefits of connectivity

Efforts to increase connectivity reflect the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s commitment to using information and communication technology (ICTs) for development in LDCs.

“High-speed internet opens opportunities for telemedicine where doctors and city hospitals can remotely provide diagnosis for a sick person in a rural village,” Utoikamanu says. “It enables access to a wealth of online content for schools and allows researchers to access latest scientific journals and exciting collaborative opportunities.”

Increased connectivity can also help improve local economies in the 47 LDCs, which are highly vulnerable to economic shocks and have low per capita incomes.

“High-speed technology also opens new business opportunities such as e-commerce and digital entrepreneurship,” Utoikamanu explains.

Lessons from case studies

All of the four study countries have made progress in broadband coverage and affordability in recent years through different strategies, the report states.

Cambodia has an unregulated, competitive market, Rwanda has a mix of local access competition and public-private partnerships, Senegal has a regulated market dominated by an incumbent operator, and Vanuatu has a mobile duopoly and a universal access policy calling for 98% broadband coverage in 2018.

According to the report, among the four study countries, the Rwanda model has resulted in the highest level of mobile broadband coverage, and the Cambodian model has resulted in the lowest prices.

Yet these countries still face challenges, including weak digital literacy, unaffordability of smartphones, lack of relevant local content and applications, and patchy mobile broadband coverage.

According to the report, governments have lacked the digital skills training and expertise to optimize broadband opportunities. As a result, much of the broadband investment has been private-sector driven.

Recommendations for LDCs

The report proposes 11 recommendations for leveraging broadband more quickly in LDCs.

  1. Make a strong commitment to envisioning broadband as a holistic general-purpose technology.
  2. Find the right combination of complementary technologies to bridge the divide.
  3. Acknowledge the need to serve rural populations.
  4. Ensure broadband applications are sustainable.
  5. Understand each country’s governance context and risk aversion.
  6. Strengthen digital literacy.
  7. Adopt digital laws to ensure greater confidence among supplier and users of broadband services.
  8. Support local e-business.
  9. Encourage greater coordination between governments and the private sector to boost the broadband economy.
  10. Improve national statistics systems to better interpret the dynamics of broadband diffusion.
  11. Balance different elements – coverage, affordability, and digital literacy – of the broadband ecosystems.
Next steps

Moving forward, the world’s most vulnerable countries face two challenges: securing access to broadband for all and making the most of this technology, Utoikamanu says. “Addressing these two issues will require a mix of supportive policy and regulatory framework, better coordination among actors of the broadband industry, improved digital training and awareness, and improved monitoring and evaluation, among other things.”

These efforts reflect the mission of the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Vulnerable Countries, as written in the report: “Ours is the challenge to ensure that nobody will be left behind.”

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How the world's most vulnerable countries can increase and leverage connectivity

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