The State of Broadband 2024 Annual Report: Leveraging AI for Universal Connectivity

The State of Broadband 2024 Annual Report: Leveraging AI for Universal Connectivity

With the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution already well underway, the Broadband Commission has added yet another task to AI’s to-do list: “Leveraging AI for Universal Connectivity”. The Commission’s annual flagship report, published at the Annual Spring Meeting on 20 June 2024, brings together contributions from over 50 commissioners representing UN agencies, private sector organisations, and national governments.

The report highlights the significant progress made to bridge the global digital divide and achieve the Commission’s 2025 Advocacy Goals, illustrating AI’s integration with these efforts through selected case studies. It calls for global cooperation and collaboration to harness the benefits and minimise the risks of emerging technologies.

Advocacy Targets under review just months before 2025 deadline

In 2011, the Broadband Commission set out four connectivity goals. This list had grown to seven by 2018. The aim of making broadband affordable (Advocacy Target 2) is now within touching distance. While the gender divide persists (Advocacy Target 7), gender parity in internet usage in some nations has been achieved. The Quick Guide, included in the report’s annex, provides an overview of the progress regarding each target in the final months before the 2025 deadline. Beyond progress made until the present day, the report turned its focus to AI’s potential future impact, as detailed in the table below.

Advocacy TargetThe role of AI
Make broadband policy universalAs AI governance is rolled out, copyright laws, online content regulation, and principles of freedom must be updated.
Make broadband affordableAI could make the delivery of broadband series more efficient and cost-effective. The development and development of AI does incur additional costs, which may be passed on to consumers.
Get everyone onlineAI should be leveraged to reduce costs, optimise data traffic management, improve operations through automation, and improve customer experience.
Combat digital illiteracyThe ability to authenticate online material and distinguish AI-generated information (e.g., deep-fakes) from “true” material is essential. Ongoing digital upskilling efforts render AI Literacy somewhat premature.
Increase use of digital financial servicesAI ought to be utilised by banks (e.g., to detect fraudulent transactions or money laundering and identify future clients) and by digital service providers. The risks of AI are significant, from writing codes and launching cyberattacks to creating deepfakes and clickbait to obtain card payment details.
Get MSMEs onlineAI harbours the potential to automate and enhance services, although many Micro, Small, and Medium-sized enterprises lack the resources to benefit from AI tools.
Bridge the gender digital divideEfforts must focus on ensuring AI does not exacerbate existing social inequalities. Initiatives are leveraging AI in the collection of administrative data to combat gender-based violence.

Spotlighted sectors

Five key sectors where digital technologies are disrupting traditional operations are subjected to two strands of analysis: (i) assessing the state of the digital divide; and (ii) identifying the opportunities, benefits, and risks presented by AI:

  • E-government Services: In 2022, 71% of UN Member States provided online transactional services. Governments are increasingly mobilising AI tools in their e-services, taking on a dual role as both a facilitator and user of AI technologies. Frameworks designed to guide this transition should consider ethical and legal standards, data protection and privacy concerns, and the need for capacity building.
  • Education: The coronavirus pandemic underscored the benefits of digital technologies in education but revealed significant inequalities. Remote learning failed to reach 31% of students globally. While AI enhances the learning and teaching experience, it also raises concerns about plagiarism, increased social inequality, exam integrity, intellectual property protection, and the authenticity of online content.
  • Digital Health: Emerging technologies facilitate remote data capture and sharing across the health ecosystem, enhancing virtual health and care from early diagnosis to person-centred care plans and accelerating the drive to Universal Health Care. However, many nations have yet to consolidate eHealth or Digital Health Strategies to ensure the ethical, safe, and sustainable integration of digital solutions.
  • Digital Finance: The benefits of digital financial services, such as integrating workers into the formal economy and ensuring safer money storage and transfer, can be maximised by improving financial literacy and access. However, the regulation of cryptocurrencies and cryptofinance is only nascent. Banks heavily invested in digital assets face higher risks.
  • Energy Consumption: There is great potential for disruptive technologies to promote more efficient, low-carbon operations and drive sustainable development strategies. However, this must not overshadow the outpacing of growth of renewable energy solutions by the increasing rate of energy consumption in the ICT sector.

The Commission remains committed to achieving the Advocacy Targets of bridging the digital divide and making broadband access universal with the 2025 deadline fast approaching. Equally, the Commission is keenly aware of the potential of emerging technologies to transform the digital landscape across multiple sectors and seeks to assert its voice in global debates on AI regulation and governance to guide this transformation.

Next steps

With the Fall Meeting of the Broadband Commission coming up in mid-September, we will not have to wait long for the Commission to outline its next steps. AI will also be a hot topic at the Summit of the Future, also taking place in September, where the Global Digital Compact will be adopted. As a result, the coming months will be key in understanding how the State of the Broadband Report will feed into other international processes on AI governance, as well as the role of the Commission in leveraging AI for universal connectivity moving forward.

If you are interested in learning more about the Broadband Commission and how its work feeds into the global discourse on AI governance, please reach out to [email protected].

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