The power of broadband to leapfrog development roadblocks and bring access to education, healthcare and employment opportunities should put high-speed information and communication technology (ICT) network roll-out at the top of every country’s SDG strategy, according to members of the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which met in New York.
This week’s adoption of the 17 SDGs sees the Commission enter a new phase, with 22 new members drawn from a range of sectors including the global technology industry, government ministers, leaders in education and healthcare, and two additional UN bodies who join existing Commissioners from ITU, UNDP, UNESCO, UN-ORHLLS, WIPO and the UN Foundation.
Established in 2010, as a top-level advocacy body promoting broadband as an accelerator of global development, the group is chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Mexico’s Carlos Slim Helú, with ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova as co-Vice Chairs.
“The UN Sustainable Development Goals will stimulate action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.
“All three pillars of sustainable development – economic development, social inclusion and environmental protection – need ICTs as key catalysts. That is why the Commission believes that ICTs, and particularly broadband, will be absolutely crucial for achieving the SDGs.”
The Commission’s annual State of Broadband report, released earlier this week, reveals that household Internet access in developed countries is close to saturation, with more than 81.3% of households connected.
But while the proportion of households in the developing world with Internet access has increased from 31.5% to over 34.1%, it remains well short of the Commission’s target of 40% by 2015. Household connectivity figures also mask strong disparities; in the 48 UN Least Developed Countries fewer than 7% of households have Internet access, while in sub-Saharan Africa only 1 in 9 households is connected.
“To succeed, the new Agenda will draw on all accelerators of inclusion, all multipliers of poverty eradication and sustainability, and our message is that broadband, and new technologies, are a transformational force, to build inclusive knowledge societies,” said UNESCO Director-general, Irina Bokova.
“This goes beyond mere advocacy for networks and services. This is about opening new paths to create and share knowledge, about enhancing freedom of expression, about widening learning opportunities, especially for girls and women, about developing content that is relevant, local and multilingual – this message has never been so important.”
Speaking at the opening of the Commission session earlier today, President Paul Kagame stressed the importance of putting technology at the heart of development. President Kagame said: “Four billion people still have no Internet access. There is an urgent need to reverse this trend. Fewer than seven per cent of households in the Least Developed Countries are connected. This is a problem, of course, but it is also means there is a lot of room for growth. In Africa, we are determined to seize this opportunity. An example is the Smart Africa initiative, which encourages nations to invest more in infrastructure, innovation, and entrepreneurship.”
President Kagame invited Commissioners to attend the Transform Africa Summit taking place in Kigali on 19-21 October, adding that the summit will be a time to forge the way forward towards further implementation of smart and sustainable ways to harness ICT for Africa’s development.
This 12th meeting of the Commission also welcomed a number of special guests, including H.E. Luis Guillermo Solís, President of Costa Rica; distinguished British filmmaker and activist Baroness Beeban Kidron; and Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.
“The proposed set of 17 SDGs provide a clear and solid framework for human development,” said Broadband Commissioner Dr Carlos M. Jarque, who also represented Co-Chair Carlos Slim at the meeting.
“Broadband represents a powerful way to accelerate progress towards their attainment. We need to look at innovative cross-sectoral strategies that can leverage the power of high-speed networks to improve education, healthcare and the delivery of basic social services to everyone, and especially the poorest in the world who need them most.”