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UN panel: Time for a 'new deal' if b'band is to reach everyone

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NEW DELHI: The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development has committed to concrete actions that will spur the roll out of broadband around the world as around five billion people are without mobile broadband access, meaning that the paths to access digital services and applications are currently blocked for much of the world’s population - holding back progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In its 2017 Spring Meeting in Hong Kong, SAR China yesterday, participants at the Commission discussed the need to come up with a new deal between all players, with renewed commitment to work towards concrete actions that will effectively connect the unconnected with broadband - especially to support Least Developed Countries. In particular, emphasis was placed on remote and rural areas which represent the biggest challenge and where barriers to access need to be also viewed through the prism of affordability and content, notably local and multi-lingual content.

Broadband Commission Co-Chair, President Paul Kagame underlined that “ICT and broadband are linking everyone and everything for the betterment of economies and societies. We are motivated by wanting to have the global community connected, especially the billions of unconnected. We will succeed when we work together: government, industry and civil society leaders.”

International Telecommunications Union Secretary General Houlin Zhao, who is co-Vice Chair of the Broadband Commission, added, “Our central conviction is that broadband and ICTs are critical if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. ICTs underpin vital achievements and modern services in many sectors, and governments and industry must increasingly work together to create the conditions so badly needed to facilitate the growth of broadband for sustainable development.”

The 2030 Agenda provided the context for discussion. UNESCO DG Irina Bokova, co-Vice Chair of the Broadband Commission, noted, “The framework for all our work is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals. We must ensure the digital revolution is a revolution for human rights, in order to promote technological breakthroughs as development breakthroughs.”

The importance of scaling efforts on digital education and mobile learning was a matter which received full support and agreement. In advance of UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week, many Commissioners singled education out as one of the most fundamental areas for action where the Commission can fuel effective change.

A recurrent issue under discussion was the need to strike a workable balance between investment and taxation, for the benefit of all members of society - to promote human development and sustainable growth, while spurring innovation. On top of this are issues associated with the cost of spectrum auctions, often in key markets where the digital divide is most prevalent.

The Commission underlined the need to build an ecosystem with government, including all ministries, and private sector working together, for more efficient investment and taxation, to empower all. In this respect, it was recommended to work more closely with Ministries of Finance to better promote the development potential of broadband.

In the run-up to the day-long meeting of the Commission there was a series of four Working Group meetings focused on a range of broadband-related issues, notably: education, outer space technologies, a new pilot initiative to index the pace of digitalisation at national level, and the digital gender divide.

In addition, a number of broadband commission partners – the United Nations University and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and Harvard University – joined forces to launch a new data research group into the digital gender divide.

Comprising leaders from government, industry, international organizations and academia, the Broadband Commission was established in 2010 as a top-level advocacy body promoting broadband as an accelerator of global development. The Commission is chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Mexico’s Carlos Slim Helú. In September 2015 it was re-named the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development with the specific purpose of working to help achieve, through the power of broadband connectivity, the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Commission’s Spring Meeting 2017 was hosted by Huawei Technologies which also included a visit to Huawei headquarters in Shenzhen on 17 March 2017.

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