The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development has suggested that efforts to close the digital divide should shift from providing connectivity to ensuring access to affordable devices and the education that will help people put them to work.
The Commission was formed in 2010 by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and given the job of promoting internet access.
That effort is reflected in internet user penetration rates of 51 per cent globally but just 19.5 per cent of people in the world's least-developed countries, as detailed in the organisation's 2021 State of Broadband report [PDF].
3.7 billion people are therefore not connected to the net, but the report says 85 per cent of them are within range of a mobile network.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who co-chairs the Commission, therefore stated: "Digital cooperation needs to go beyond access to broadband. We also need to close the gap in the adoption and use of affordable devices and services, in accessible content, and in digital literacy."
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Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union and a co-vice chair on the Commission, weighed in with his opinion that "digital technologies and services, which have proven so essential during the crisis, are still out of reach, unaffordable, irrelevant, too complicated to use, or not secure enough for far too many people around the world."
The State of Broadband report outlines many tactics designed to address Zhao and Kagame’s concerns.
The ITU, for its part, will start three working groups to attack the problems outlined in the report. One will focus on smartphone access, another on "AI Capacity Building" and the third will ponder "Data for Learning".
The Vodafone Group will co-chair the smartphone access working group, alongside the ITU. Vodafone has also committed to "two pilot projects on device affordability" and recommended that digital inclusivity requires pervasive 4G and the recycling of spectrum used by 2G to enable rollout of the newer standard. ®