UN’s Broadband Commission Aims to Connect the World

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

The Broadband Commission for Digital Development, an initiative of UNESCO in partnership with the International Telecommunications Union, has set itself four new ambitious targets for making broadband policy universal and boosting affordability and broadband uptake by 2015.

Today, broadband is still a far-away concept in remote and rural areas, particularly in developing countries. But according to the commission’s targets, by 2015,  40 percent of households in developing countries should have Internet access.

” Access to broadband or the Internet at home is the most inclusive way of bringing people online. At home, all household members can have access – no matter whether they have jobs, go to school, are male or female, children, adults or elderly,” says the Commission.

“Research has shown that children with Internet access at home perform better in school. And children using the Internet at home are usually under parental guidance and therefore better protected against online dangers.”

In addition, the Commission wants to see Internet user penetration reach 60 percent worldwide, 50 percent in developing countries and 15 percent in least developed countries.

Furthermore, the Commission wants entry-level broadband services to be made affordable in developing countries through adequate regulation and market forces (amounting to less than 5% of average monthly income) by 2015.

” The price of broadband access plays a critical role in terms of broadband diffusion. While broadband  is becoming more affordable worldwide, with prices falling everywhere, it nonetheless remains unaffordable in many parts of the developing world,” according to a statement from the commission titled, “Broadband Targets for 2015.”

The statement also states that, by 2015, all countries should have a national broadband plan or strategy or include broadband in their Universal Access / Service Definitions.

“These targets are ambitious but achievable, given the political will and commitment on the part of governments, working in partnership with the private sector,” said Dr Hamadoun Touré, ITU Secretary-General, who serves as co-Vice Chair of the Commission alongside UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. The Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helú, Chairman and CEO of Telmex and América Movíl.

The Broadband Challenge endorsed by the Commission recognizes communication as ‘a human need and a right’, and calls on governments and private industry to work together to develop the innovative policy frameworks, business models and financing arrangements needed to facilitate growth in access to broadband worldwide.

It urges governments to avoid limiting market entry and taxing ICT services unnecessarily to enable broadband markets to realize their full growth potential, and encourages governments to promote coordinated international standards for interoperability and to address the availability of adequate radio frequency spectrum. “We note the importance of the guiding principles of fair competition for promoting broadband access to all,” it reads. “It is essential to review legislative and regulatory frameworks, many of which are inherited from the last century, to ensure the free and unhindered flow of information in the new virtual, hyper-connected world.”

The Challenge stresses the need to stimulate content production in local languages and enhance local capacity to benefit from, and contribute to, the digital revolution.

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