The Broadband Commission is a remarkable institution that exemplifies the growing trend of collaboration between multilateral organizations, governments, civil society, and business. The commission follows a process of co-creation, which brings together the different skills and resources of the member institutions – such as financial management, operational skills, on-the-ground knowledge, regulatory or public policies expertise – to develop solutions to some of the world’s most complex, multi-dimensional challenges.
The Commission was established by the ITU and UNESCO in May 2010, with the aim of boosting the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda. This mission is based on a belief that broadband is an essential ingredient of economic and social well-being in every country.
The Commission is made up of a high-powered community including business leaders/CEOs, senior policy-makers and government representatives, international agencies, academia and non-governmental organizations focused on development issues (including Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus). It is co-chaired by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Carlos Slim, in cooperation with vice-chairs Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of ITU, and Irina Bokova, Secretary General of UNESCO.
One of the central roles of the Commission is to advocate for higher priority to be given to broadband infrastructure in the highest policy circles to ensure that the benefits of broadband infrastructure and services are realized in all countries.
To date, the Commission has had a great impact in terms of raising awareness of the importance of broadband for sustainable development. There is no question in my mind that it has made a big difference in building consensus that broadband is becoming a critical infrastructure, just like water and electricity.
Still, we have so much work to do: more than 4 billion people remain unconnected to the Internet and 90 percent of these individuals are in the developing world. In the 49 least-developed countries, less than 10 percent of the population is connected.
The average cost of fixed broadband at the end of 2013 still represented one quarter of an average citizen’s monthly income across the developing world (as opposed to less than 3 percent in developed nations). Lack of relevant content, and limited digital and language literacy further worsen this divide.
Yet, recent statistics from the Copenhagen Consensus estimates that by increasing mobile penetration levels by a factor of 3 in the developing world, we could provide a return of $17 for each dollar spent.
We have a real and great responsibility to enable broadband to empower marginalized groups and deliver social and economic benefits to all. We must help ensure that every person in our world has access to information, healthcare, education, equality and economic opportunity.
We are at a critical juncture with regard to meeting this responsibility. The next few months are of paramount importance when it comes to ensuring that broadband and information and communications technology (ICT) are more clearly included in United Nations’ the post-2015 development agenda, which will be codified in a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), (which will build upon the existing Millennium Development Goals).
There is not a single one of the 17 SDGs currently under discussion where broadband and ICT could not have a major positive impact. However, the fact that ICT and broadband have not been made more visible in the establishment of the SDGs is a strong indicator that much work still remains to be done.
During the Broadband Commission meeting, this fact was a key topic of discussion, and I know there was agreement amongst participants of the need to convince key-decision makers outside of the ICT industry of the importance of connectivity, and the enormous role it could play in helping to achieve these goals.
Broadband can reduce poverty and inequality, help ensure access to health and education, help to mitigate climate change, promote peace and international cooperation, and ensure sustainable development in the decades to come. Broadband and ICTs are key ingredients in efforts to ensure that no society, and no individual is left behind.
This blog first appeared in Alcatel-Lucent and has been republished with the author’s permission.
Michel Combes became Chief Executive Officer of Alcatel-Lucent on April 1, 2013, joining the company with more than 20 years of experience in the telecommunications sector, as well as a strong international background.