Nº 6 2015 > Broadband
Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development
On 26 September 2015, the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development held its Inaugural Meeting at the Yale Club in New York. Thirty nine Commissioners attended, as well as ten Special Guests and a number of Focal Points. H.E. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, opened the meeting. He noted that wide access to broadband will be an important factor in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); however, around four billion people still have no access to the Internet, while fewer than 7 per cent of households in the least-developed countries (LDCs) are connected, and there is an urgent need to address this situation.
Mr Carlos Jarque, Chief Executive of FCC, Spain, represented Carlos Slim Helú, President of the Carlos Slim Foundation and co-Chair of the Commission. He observed that the era of education only via classrooms, and of health care only via clinics, is ending. A new era is emerging, where the biggest bookseller does not have bookstores; the company with the most retail sales has no stores; the biggest school in the world does not have classrooms; and the biggest social network does not belong to any specific country. We are creating a new society, made possible to a large degree due to broadband.
Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO and co-Vice Chair of the Commission, stated that the Commission was meeting at a crucial moment, a day after the SDGs were adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Summit. She explained how the Broadband Commission for Digital Development is being relaunched as the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development to sharpen action, help drive forward the new goals, and to turn the digital revolution into a development revolution.
Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General, identified the major achievements of the Commission to date as policy leadership and advocacy, indicated by the increase in the number of countries with national broadband policies from under 100 to 148 over the past five years. He thanked all Commissioners for bringing their ideas, insights, resources and energy to the cause of “Broadband for All”.
His Excellency President Luís Guillermo Solís of Costa Rica addressed the Commission on Costa Rica’s “A Connected Society” plan launched on 5 October 2015. The “CR Digital” Strategy focuses on solving access issues for vulnerable groups and promoting ICT capacity and skills. The Connected Household Programme will give free Internet access and subsidized computers to 140 000 families by 2018, while the Connected Communities Programme will provide access to underserved communities with a USD 167 million investment. President Solís said he was honoured at being named ITU Special Patron for Youth and ICT, and reaffirmed Costa Rica’s commitment to encouraging and supporting the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for social and economic progress.
The first session, “Broadband for Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” was chaired by Fred Matiang’I, Kenya’s Minister of Information, Communications and Technology. He observed that government services have often been offered in silos or in different departments, but this new era of governance requires coordination, integration and harmonization in service delivery.
Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute of Columbia University, argued that “the SDGs will be made or lost around this table”. Gyan Chandra Acharya, Under-Secretary-General of UN-OHRLLS observed that the growth in popularity of national broadband plans in many countries is thanks to the support of the UN, ITU and UNESCO. Hans Vestberg, CEO of Ericsson, presented Ericsson’s latest research: over the next five years, telecom carriers will provide 90 per cent of people with broadband coverage. Marcus Weldon, head of Bell Labs, described how virtualization is changing ICT networks. Sam Pitroda, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister of India, believes much current organizational architecture still dates from the 20th Century, and this needs to change.
Robert Kirkpatrick, Director of UN Global Pulse, described how we live in an ocean of real-time data and Big Data, which holds massive potential to be used to improve development. Michael O’Neill, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy of UNDP, underlined that ICTs will drive progress across the entire post-2015 development agenda. Gordon Graylish, Vice President and General Manager of the Governments and World Ahead Division of Intel, explained that the barriers to broadband development are not a technical issue — many of the technologies needed exist today. Dato Lee Yee Cheong, the Malaysian Chairman, Governing Council, International Science Technology and Innovation Centre for South-South Cooperation under the auspices of UNESCO (ISTIC), emphasized the urgent issue of gender equality.
Robert Pepper of Cisco cited data on the narrowing mobile phone divide and Internet access divides. However, there is a new digital divide emerging in machine-to-machine (M2M) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Leong Keng Thai, Deputy Chief Executive and Director General, of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), Singapore, suggested that the Commission should encourage governments to integrate their NBPs with their national economic development plans. Speranza Ndege, Senior Lecturer at Kenyatta University in Kenya pointed out that, in most developing countries, ICTs are not compulsory in schools and need to be integrated into curricula. Siyabonga Cyprian Cwele, Minister of South Africa’s Telecommunications and Postal Services, suggested using Universal Service Funds for funding free WiFi around post offices. Victor Calvo-Sotelo, Spain’s Secretary of State for Telecommunications and the Information Society, updated the Commission on Spain’s smart cities network for technologies.
Kevin Martin, Facebook’s Vice-President for Mobile and Global Access Policy, emphasized the role of local health care and educational content in facilitating Internet adoption and usage. Debretsion Gebremichael, Ethiopia’s Minister of Communication and Information Technology, emphasized there is no single one-size-fits-all approach for all countries, and challenges of access and affordability must also be addressed regionally. In his Session summary, Matiang’I of Kenya highlighted the importance of developing new partnerships and new systems, substance, content and capacity. “Dealing with the silos and creating a sense of harmonization will determine our success as we move forward,” he said.
The second session, “Investing in a Level Regulatory Playing-Field”, was chaired by Sunil Mittal, Founder and Chairman of Bharti Enterprises. Mr Mittal believes connectivity and mobile broadband should be a birthright. To promote broadband, governments need to be mindful to reduce taxation, make spectrum available in plentiful supply, and bring in more competition.
Denis O’Brien, Chairman of the Digicel Group, suggested that different players need to come together in partnership — in his opinion, there will be no broadband into rural areas without a revenue-sharing model between Over-The-Top (OTT) players and telcos, because current investment models are not sustainable.
Nikolay Nikoforov, the Russian Federation’s Minister of Telecom and Mass Communications, updated the Commission on the Russian Federation’s experience in covering all small villages of less than 250 people. Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, suggested that normal market forces will not solve all problems relating to broadband deployments, and that connectivity should be part of civil society. In response, Phuthuma Nhleko, Non-Executive Chairman of MTN (now Executive Chairman), underlined that the responsibility for broadband must be shared jointly between the public and private sectors. Paul Mitchell, General Manager, Technology Policy at Microsoft underlined that we need to make sure that our policy frameworks and regulatory environments have the flexibility to accommodate technical adaptations which arise. Sunil Mittal thanked everyone for their rich contributions.
The Chairs and vice-Chairs thanked everybody for their rich exchanges on a range of issues, and looked forward to continuing and deepening the discussion at the Special Session of the Commission in Davos and at the next Commission meeting in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on 13 March 2016.