Nº 8 2012 > In focus
Broadband Commission for Digital Development
- Highlights from the Sixth Meeting in New York
The Yale Club in New York, United States, was the venue for the Sixth Meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, held on 23 September 2012.
Opening the meeting, Carlos Slim Helú, President of the Slim Foundation and co-Chair of the Commission, noted that since its establishment in 2010, the Commission has been building the case for broadband by showing how it boosts economic growth, brings about social inclusion and promotes sustainable development.
The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, acknowledged the Commission’s power to bring together a unique mix of people and experiences from government, the private sector, research and academia. She said that information and communication technologies (ICT) can be great enablers for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and education for all. The Secretary-General of ITU, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré updated the Commissioners on recent developments in broadband.
Commission launches Working Group on Broadband and Gender
Thanks to a rallying call by Geena Davis — Founder of the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media, and ITU’s Special Envoy for Women and Girls in the field of technology — the Commission decided to set up a Working Group on Broadband and Gender.
Daniel Kent, President, Executive Director and Founder of Net Literacy, asked the Commission to consider expanding the objectives of this gender working group to engage youth-focused organizations. The idea would be that these organizations would innovate, propose and test practical and effective sustainable development solutions to mobilize more youth in support of digital inclusion, broadband development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Broadband boosts development
Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), welcomed the recognition by the Rio+20 Conference of the role of broadband in sustainable development. She found it encouraging that far more is understood today about the role of broadband as a key enabler of development. Luis Alberto Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank, cited the bank’s research into the positive economic impact of broadband.
Kathy Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation, described the founding the mHealth Alliance, while Gabrielle Gauthey of Alcatel Lucent called on Commissioners — especially private-sector participants — to join the mEducation Alliance.
Stephen Conroy, Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, updated the Commission on what is happening in Australia through its national digital economy strategy and national broadband network. He particularly highlighted the Healthy Towns project, which links health clinics. Ivo Ivanovski, Minister of Information Society in The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, described his country’s progress in achieving its information society goals.
Be inspired by broadband
Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore opened the “B More Inspired: Broadband Stories” session by describing his entrepreneurial success in creating Mashable, one of the top ten online blogs.
Medic Mobile CEO Josh Nesbit then explained how Medic Mobile designs mobile tools for community health workers. He explained how mobiles can transform healthcare delivery by making it possible to track the status of patients, generate automated alerts, and monitor treatments and vaccination programmes, as well as disaster relief efforts (for example, as was done following the earthquake in Haiti).
Professor Muhammad Yunus, Chairman of Yunus Centre, Dhaka, Bangladesh, and founder of Grameen Bank, gave an overview of the use of mobiles for improving people’s lives, health outcomes and literacy, saying that “Aladdin’s lamp is in our hands”. He stressed that no one need be illiterate, because they could learn to read and write for fun via a mobile. Mr Kent described how students are helping to generate digital inclusion through a Digital Literacy corps of volunteers, with programmes in computer repair, training seniors in how to access and use the Internet, web safety awareness programmes, and an online clearinghouse of best digital inclusion practices. Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi, Chairman of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, described how the Getting Malaysian Businesses Online project is changing people’s lives by connecting them with broadband.
Discussions centred on the importance of accurate price data and the rising costs of digital exclusion. Mr Slim Helú described Telmex’s Digital Scholarships and Digital Public Libraries initiatives and updated the Commission on his agreement with Salman Khan to translate Khan Academy courses to make them available in Latin America, with the goal of free education for everyone, everywhere.
Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission, explained the deployment and digital adoption problems that the United States faced in achieving the goal of universal broadband. In the United States, the broadband adoption rate is about 67 per cent. This means that the non-adoption rate is 33 per cent, so 100 million people in the United States who could have broadband still do not adopt broadband at home.
Jeffrey Sachs challenged the Commission to help save the lives of the 750 000 children who die from Malaria each year. The disease is curable as long as it is diagnosed within 24 hours. New mobile phone technologies now allow blood samples to be taken and to be sent to a laboratory, and results can be received under an hour. Both the blood tests and the medicine cost around 80 US cents. Professor Sachs outlined a target of reaching 1 million community health workers in Africa by 2015. He also underlined the need to further explore the applications that higher bandwidth connectivity offers to these workers in the field, for example through the use of smartphones. Industry was called upon to support the project with hardware, software and connectivity — a call which was enthusiastically received by the Commissioners.
State of broadband in 2012
Dr Touré presented the Broadband Commission’s report “State of Broadband 2012: Achieving Digital Inclusion for All”. The report provides evidence of the role of broadband as a vital enabler to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed sustainable development goals. Dr Touré thanked Commissioners for their feedback, and especially the 22 Commissioners and their organizations who had contributed to the report through 24 Featured Insights.
The report tracks progress in reaching the Commission’s advocacy targets, and strong progress has been observed for all targets. Developing countries are on track to achieve the target for household Internet access, but further growth is needed to achieve the target for individual Internet access.
Bringing the future closer
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who is also co-Chair of the Commission, observed that there are many different apps for broadband. These include central databases of crop yields and meteorological information for farmers, integrated school curricula for pupils, bus tracking for commuters, and medical records for doctors. These apps make the link between broadband and improving people’s lives. In his view, the Commission’s work in promoting broadband is geared towards bringing this brighter future closer, sooner.
Who was there?
Among the 43 Commissioners who attended or were represented at the meeting, were: Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; Carlos Slim Helú, President, Slim Foundation; Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO; Helen Clark, Administrator, UNDP; and Francis Gurry, Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Special guests included Edmond Mansoor, Minister of State, Antigua and Barbuda, and Geena Davis ITU’s Special Envoy for Women and Girls in the field of technology.