(Editor’s note: The Broadband Report is a regular feature in WRAL Tech Wire.)
DUBLIN, Ireland – Broadband connectivity continues to be on the world’s stage.
Access to broadband could be the universal catalyst that lifts developing countries out of poverty and puts access to health care, education and basic social services within the reach of all, according to the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which met in Dublin last week.
The commission is a joint initiative with ITU and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, set up in response to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call to step up efforts to meet the international body’s Millennium Development Goals.
Established in 2010, the commission brings together 58 of the planet’s biggest players from government and industry with a goal of boosting the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda.
The commission reiterated its call to the international community during last week’s meeting to recognize the transformational potential of high-speed networks and ensure broadband penetration targets are specifically included in the UN post-2015 Sustainable Development Framework. It also urged governments and international financing bodies to work to remove current barriers to broadband investments.
Globally, as much as 95 percent of telecommunications infrastructure is funded in the private sector. But, according to the commission, better incentives are “urgently” needed if investments are to align with the coming exponential growth of connected users and the so-called “Internet of Things.”
In the world’s 200 biggest cities, the number of connected devices is forecast to increase from an average of 400 devices per every 1/4 square mile to more than 13,000 devices by 2016.
Many of the world’s prominent leaders in technology, government and academia participate in this commission. It is chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Mexico’s Carlos Slim Helú, with ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova both serving as vice chairs.
President Kagame noted in his welcoming remarks last week that broadband can deliver more efficiency in education, health, finance, banking and other sectors. Added Kagame, “In Rwanda, the broadband model we have adopted is based on effective public/private partnerships, guided by what works on the ground.”
Rwanda is currently rolling out a nationwide 4G mobile broadband network through a public/private partnership. Kagame also urged commissioners to go beyond infrastructure and work to ensure its proper use.
“Our initial focus was on connectivity; to put the infrastructure and tools in place to connect citizens to the digital era,” he said. “Onwards, our efforts need to focus on unleashing the smart use of broadband to help people use services in ways that will significantly improve their lives.”
Uptake of information technology and communications is accelerating worldwide, with mobile broadband recognized as the fastest-growing technology in human history.
The commission stated that the number of mobile phone subscriptions now roughly equals the world’s total population, while more than 2.7 billion people are online. Active mobile broadband subscriptions now exceed 2.1 billion – three times higher than the 700 million wireline broadband connections worldwide.
Most of this progress has taken place in the developing world, according to the commission, which has accounted for 90 percent of global net additions for mobile cellular and 82 percent of global net additions of new Internet users since early 2010 when the commission was established.
“That translates to 820 million new Internet users and two billion new mobile broadband subscribers in developing countries in just four years,” said ITU Secretary-General Touré. “For the first time in history, broadband gives us the power to end extreme poverty and put our planet on a new, sustainable development course.”
Last year, the commission released its global snapshot of broadband deployment, entitled The State of Broadband 2013 Universalizing Broadband, featuring country-by-country rankings based on access and affordability. In addition to broadband and UN sustainable development goals, the agenda of the Dublin meeting also covered the changing role of telecom operators and content providers, and innovative solutions for rolling out rural broadband.