Nº 2 2015 > Broadband Commission
Broadband Commission convenes in Paris
The ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Digital Development convened on 26–27 February at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris, at the invitation of Commission Co‑Vice Chair and UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova. The Commission gathered in parallel with UNESCO’s flagship “ICT4Education” initiative, Mobile Learning Week, giving the 26 Commissioners present the chance to interact with ministers of education and paedagogical professionals from around the world.
Addressing commissioners and special guests at the opening, Ms Bokova emphasized the power of technology to transform the lives of girls and women through access to education. “Two-thirds of illiterate adults are women, and two-thirds of the world’s out-of-school primary-age children are girls,” she said. “This is a huge injustice, and a gap that we must fill. The continued expansion of broadband, combined with other technologies, can help us make giant strides towards this.”
In his opening remarks, Co‑Chair President Paul Kagame of Rwanda reinforced the Commission’s core message that broadband infrastructure needs to be viewed as basic social infrastructure, and underlined the critical role broadband plays in Rwanda’s development goals. “Broadband enables business and social entrepreneurs to find ways to offer world-class education at low cost, to populations that have never had access. These centres of knowledge already exist, but in order for developing countries and isolated communities to access and use them productively, they will need faster, more reliable, and more affordable Internet access.”
This message was reinforced by Co‑Chair Carlos Slim Helú, President of the Carlos Slim Foundation, who highlighted that broadband technology should be used to promote social inclusion. “We need to be sure that the potential of broadband for education is fully leveraged so successful initiatives, such as new online course platforms, and many valuable education and training content, become quickly available to people worldwide.”
In his inaugural remarks to the Commission as its new Co‑Vice Chair, ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, stressed the power of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to transform the educational landscape. “For the first time in history, mobile broadband gives us the chance to truly bring education to all, regardless of a person’s geographical location, linguistic and cultural frameworks, or ready access to infrastructure like schools and transport. Education will drive entrepreneurship, especially among the young — which is why we must strive harder to get affordable broadband networks in place which can deliver educational opportunities to children and adults,” he urged.
During Session One: Leveraging Broadband for Building Inclusive Knowledge Societies, moderated by Ms Bokova, Dr Sam Pitroda, ICT expert and Special Advisor to India’s Prime Minister, stressed the importance of mobile broadband in reaching people in developing countries, where fixed network infrastructure is often antiquated or absent. The latest ITU figures show that mobile broadband is the fastest-growing technology in human history, with almost as many mobile cellular subscriptions as there are people on the planet, while active mobile broadband subscriptions exceed 2.3 billion — more than three times as many as the world’s 700 million wireline broadband connections. Most of this growth has taken place in the developing world, which has accounted for 90% of global net additions for mobile cellular and 82% of global net additions of new Internet users since early 2010.
Michel Combes, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, observed that measuring the value of broadband to communities might be better approached at the grassroots level, and highlighted the need to identify the levers of greater national broadband investment in different countries around the world.
Sun Yafang, Chairwoman of the Board of Huawei, put forward some compelling statistics: schools with an Internet connection can educate 25% more students than non-connected schools. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s Minister for Information Society and Administration, Ivo Ivanovski, pointed to his country’s strong focus on bringing the latest technology to the educational environment, but highlighted the problem of the “brain drain” in emerging economies, arguing that creating a enabling environment for students, as well as for entrepreneurs, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and corporations is an important priority. KT Corporation’s Chairman and CEO, Chang-Gyu Hwang, joined the discussions as the newest Commissioner and described his country’s “GiGA Island” initiative which has brought high-speed mobile broadband to some of the outlying Korean islands, with great benefits for local communities. Finally, Dr Speranza Ndege, Senior Lecturer at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, spoke of the many benefits of digital libraries for students and educators in developing countries.
During Session Two: Broadband in the Post-2015 Agenda, chaired by Mr Zhao, Commissioners agreed that multilateral discussions taking place over the coming months are vital for ensuring that the importance of broadband and ICTs is clearly recognized in the United Nations post-2015 development agenda and the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Commissioners argued that, of the 17 SDGs currently under discussion, broadband and ICT would have a major positive impact on each and every one. There was wide concern that broadband is not visible in the current SDG negotiating text — a strong indicator, the Commission agreed, that much work remains to be done.
The sessions were followed by a lively lunchtime discussion, moderated by Minister Ivanovski, where Commissioners were invited to identify the major achievements of the Commission, as well as their recommendations for its key priorities going forward. The Commission generously thanked the secretariat and the ITU and UNESCO teams for all their dedicated work and support. The Commission will reconvene in New York on 26 September 2015, ahead of this year’s Session of the UN General Assembly.