- Report finds a fundamental shift from supply-driven communications access to demand-driven communication, particularly in the Global South.
- Entrepreneurs are one of the engines accelerating the need for greater worldwide digital transformation.
- Gaps in connectivity increasing between some communities, with women and disadvantaged groups hardest hit.
- Absence of media, information, and digital literacy skills, with inaccurate self-reporting, identified as the main causes of digital exclusion.
New York, 16 September 2023 – The annual State of Broadband Report – co-authored this year by Access Partnership as a Knowledge Partner – was released during the Broadband Commission’s Annual Fall Meeting in New York this weekend.
The State of Broadband report is issued every year by the Broadband Commission – established by the ITU, UNESCO, H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and Mr. Carlos Slim Helú of Mexico – and is a unique, global snapshot of broadband network access and affordability. It provides insights on the policy actions needed to reach universal connectivity.
Overall, the global offline population has continued to decline this year, falling to 2.6 billion people from an estimated 2.7 billion people in 2022. This year’s report revealed that this demand for connectivity, particularly in the un- and under-connected Global South, has shifted from emerging to substantial and sustained. It recommends that policymakers take stock of lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, where connectivity’s pivotal role in everything from health to education to transactions was thrown into stark relief, as well as prioritising investing in communications infrastructure. The report predicts that this investment will result in a tipping point in the “cost/return equation” and feed GDP growth, rather than follow it.
Another of the report’s findings was that micro-, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) around the world are one of the primary drivers of demand for broadband services due to their continued domination of the business landscape. The other key driver is government itself, as a supplier of digital services to meet its citizens’ needs. As such, the report suggests that governments capitalise on this strong shift towards digital foundation building, both in terms of need and service capabilities. It also recommends creating virtuous cycles of innovation and entrepreneurship with stronger financial inclusion programmes for MSMEs, as well as minority and disadvantaged groups.
In terms of improvements required, the report highlights that the gender gap in smartphone ownership, which had been reducing year-on-year across low- and middle-income countries, has started increasing again. Allowing access to information and its corresponding digital literacy is important to ensure that women can access and use mobile money on par with men and equipping them with the means to protect their data privacy and bolster digital defences against gender-based violence online. With this gap largely being attributed to affordability, a recommendation is for regulators to subsidise smartphone ownership or data for under-served women.
In addition to the hardware and infrastructure challenges, this year’s edition also emphasises that digital skills – media, information, and digital literacy – are an important enabler of universal connectivity. Policymakers are encouraged to do more to promote the development of these skills, as their absence is one of the main causes of digital exclusion, misuse, and underuse of digital technologies. It also reports that the young “digital native” narrative has been debunked, with younger users often overestimating their own digital skills and many still lacking the productivity skills needed for their studies and future work.
Lim May-Ann, Director of Access Partnership’s Fair Tech Institute and principal author of the report, said: “A strong running theme in our research is the pivotal role connectivity has in levelling the playing field – both socially and economically. The pandemic lockdowns proved the need, the fall-out proved the value, and the current global economic climate is proving the dangers of ignoring it, with the under-connected being hit harder than any other community. Investing in connectivity means investing in a more equitable global society”.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, ITU Secretary-General, said: “While the global markets still face strong economic headwinds today, digital connectivity has accelerated as people, businesses, and governments pivoted strongly towards online communications, and we continue to see new Internet devices and applications growing broadband penetration into developing markets. This improvement in connectivity is another step in the right direction and one more step towards leaving no one behind in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals”.
NOTE FOR EDITORS
- The report and executive summary can be found here: http://www.broadbandcommission.org/publication/state-of-broadband-2023
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About Access Partnership:
Access Partnership is the world’s pre-eminent technology advisory, working with governments and industry to create policy, regulatory, and legal routes to market since 1999. We offer a unified service to implement tech-led solutions for an increasingly tech-based society. Learn more at: www.accesspartnership.com
About the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development
The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development was established in 2010 by the ITU and UNESCO with the aim of boosting the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda and expanding broadband access in every country. Led by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helù of Mexico, it is co-chaired by the ITU’s Secretary-General, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. It comprises over 50 Commissioners, who represent a cross-cutting group of top CEOs and industry leaders, senior policymakers and government representatives, and experts from international agencies, academia and organisations concerned with development. Learn more at: www.broadbandcommission.org
About the ITU
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations’ specialised agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), driving innovation in ICTs together with 193 Member States and a membership of over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organisations. Established over 150 years ago, the ITU is the intergovernmental body responsible for coordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communication infrastructure in the developing world, and establishing the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems. From broadband networks, cutting-edge wireless technologies, and aeronautical and maritime navigation to radio astronomy, oceanographic and satellite-based earth monitoring, as well as converging fixed-mobile phone, Internet, and broadcasting technologies, the ITU is committed to connecting the world. For more information, visit www.itu.int.