The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has said connecting the next 1.5 billion people will cost an estimated $450 billion. According to the ITU, The scale of the infrastructure that must be built or upgraded to bridge the digital divide and deploy emerging technologies is considerable. This was disclosed in the new report, ‘The State of Broadband: Broadband Catalyzing Sustainable Development’ released by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development at the ongoing ITU Telecom World 2018 in Durban, South Africa. Today, almost half of the world’s people uses the Internet, mostly in urban and densely populated areas. The challenge of connecting people living in rural and remote areas to the Internet persists in many countries. The report highlights the critical role that broadband connectivity plays for the world’s people, from accessing online health services to receiving social security payments via mobile phones to receiving life-saving disaster warnings. The report shows that a growing number of governments now benchmark the status of broadband in their national broadband plans. This year, the report shows for the first time that at least 15 countries now have strategies in place for promoting the safe use of Artificial Intelligence.
Mr. Houlin Zhao, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), who serves as co-vice chair of the Commission alongside UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay said Broadband infrastructure is vital to country infrastructure, as essential as water and electricity networks. He said the data analysis and policy recommendations contained in the report come at a crucial time when Internet access is more important than ever before. “4 I’s – Infrastructure, Investment, Innovation and Inclusivity, are central to ITU’s strategy to leverage the power of ICTs to expand access to broadband services and help accelerate the achievement of all United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” Zhao added.
According to the report, progress is being made in the establishment by countries of broadband policies, but only incrementally. The total number of countries with a National Broadband Plan (NBP) has seen a net increase of three, from 80 per cent (156 countries) to 81 per cent (159 countries). To boost broadband, the Broadband Commission recommends: building national leadership for broadband; promoting Internet training and stimulating consumer and business demand; monitoring ICT developments to inform policy; reviewing universal service measures; strengthening digital skills and literacy; supporting local e-businesses and entrepreneurs; adapting legal frameworks; and reducing taxes and duties on telecom products and services.
While the report demonstrates the value of Internet connectivity in today’s increasingly digital world, it also raises concerns for the growing inequalities in access to broadband and how connectivity is used within and between countries, sexes and regions.
The report provides a global snapshot of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by-country data measuring broadband access against the Broadband Commission’s seven advocacy targets. It also highlights the impact of rapidly evolving communication and information technologies (ICTs), including the implications of emerging trends like the Internet of Things, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. Advances in mobile broadband (such as 4G and 5G) and next-generation satellite technologies will mean the delivery of digital services more quickly and reliably, with implications for the future of agriculture, climate, disaster relief, education, health and transportation.
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