Dr Tour threw down the challenge to politicians, UN agency chiefs and industry heavyweights at the second meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which delivered its final outcome report earlier today to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York.
“Broadband is the next tipping point, the next truly transformational technology. It can generate jobs, drive growth and productivity, and underpin long-term economic competitiveness. It is also the most powerful tool we have at our disposal in our race to meet the Millennium Development Goals, which are now just five years away,” said Dr Tour.
The Commission outcome report, which includes a High-Level Declaration calling for ‘Broadband Inclusion for All’, comprises a detailed framework for broadband deployment and ten Action Points aimed at mobilizing all stakeholders and convincing government leaders to prioritize the roll-out of broadband networks to their citizens.
Recent research suggests a strong link between broadband penetration and economic growth. “In the 21st century, affordable, ubiquitous broadband networks will be as critical to social and economic prosperity as networks like transport, water and power. Broadband will serve as tomorrow’s fountain of innovation. It represents the ripening of the digital revolution, the fruits of which have yet to be invented or even imagined.”
The report was presented to the UN Secretary-General during a side-event held in conjunction with the UN MDG Summit, which is set to begin tomorrow at UN headquarters. Receiving the report, Mr Ban noted the power of technology to inject new impetus into the development paradigm.
“Information and communication technologies are playing an increasingly important role as drivers of social and economic development, but it will take partnerships such as the Broadband Commission to ensure that those technologies live up to their extraordinary potential,” said Mr Ban. “The Commission’s report is an important contribution to our efforts to ensure that the benefits of information and communication technology can further the United Nations goals of peace, security or development for all.”
The report stresses the need for leaders to focus on building a ‘virtuous broadband development dynamic’, noting that broadband has the power to “cut a swathe through the silos associated with health, education, energy, transport, the environment and other key sectors.”
It also asks: “What price will be paid in the brave new world of digital opportunity by those who fail to embrace broadband inclusion for their citizens?” – a stark warning in light of huge disparities in broadband affordability worldwide, which means that those who can least afford it pay the most for access, relative to average national monthly income.
While subscribers in the developed world – for example the UK, US, Canada or Australia – pay under 1% of average national monthly income for a fast broadband connection, in many of the world’s UN-designated Least Developed Countries, such as Ethiopia, Malawi or Niger, even a relatively slow broadband connection costs many times an average monthly salary.
Affordability has a clear and direct correlation to take-up, so that while around 30% of people in the highly ‘wired’ countries of Western Europe, Oceania and North America have a broadband subscription, in BRIC countries penetration is modest at around 10%, and in the world’s poorest nations broadband reaches less than 1% of the population.
The Commission outcome report stresses the importance of promoting cultural diversity and multilingualism in the online world. It urges governments not to limit market entry nor tax broadband and related services too heavily, and to ensure ample availability of spectrum to support mobile broadband growth. ITU forecasts a total of 900 million broadband subscribers by 2010 – and predicts that mobile broadband will be the access technology of choice for millions in the developing world, where fixed link infrastructure is sparse and expensive to deploy.
“The new realities and opportunities for digital development must be firmly fixed in the minds of world leaders as a leadership imperative,” says the report, urging leaders to replicate the ‘mobile miracle’ of the first decade of the 21st century in a ‘broadband boom’ that will created shared high-speed resources accessible and beneficial to all.