On the 26 February, at Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona, Spain, the Expert Group report was published, “A New Deal: Investing in Our Common Future – Policy Recommendations to Close the Broadband Gap”, presenting recommendations to policy-makers, regulators and international institutions to address digital exclusion. The Expert Group, chaired by Commissioner, Philipp Metzger, Director-General of the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM), Switzerland, highlights potential actions under the following key themes:
– Providing a healthy investment climate;
– Enabling lower cost supply of infrastructure and effective use of spectrum;
– Making ICT markets work for all; and,
– Liberating demand over the wider digital economy.
“In our increasingly digital world, connectivity is the difference for many people between accessing employment, education, healthcare, e-banking and being left behind,” stated Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary General and Co-Vice Chair of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development. “The important recommendations presented in the Expert Group’s report provide concrete actions that can fast-forward broadband delivery of digital connectivity. In particular, we need to create an enabling policy and regulatory environment that will attract investment in ICTs, especially from the private sector”, he added.
In conjunction with the World Economic Forum, the Broadband Commission co-hosted a Special Session attended notably by one of the Chairs of the Commission, H. E. President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, and co-Vice Chair, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. The session focused on four sectors related to the Broadband Commission’s activities, namely:
– The Gender Digital Divide: How to ensure that the issue of growing gender digital divide is addressed?
– New Financing Solutions for Connectivity: How to increase the efforts put towards connecting the 52% remaining people to the internet?
– Privacy, Safety and Security: How to fight the increasing cyber-crime and cyber-bullying?
– The Fourth Industrial Revolution Divide: How to ensure that Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies don’t create a digital divide?
The report of the session will be available soon on the Broadband Commission website.
“Governments must ensure that the policies they implement contribute to increase inclusiveness and that technologies are used to solve problems rather than amplifying them by leaving certain persons behind”, stated Achim Steiner, UN Development Programme Administrator, during the last World Government Summit from 11-13 February at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.
H.E. Mr. Nikolay Nikiforov, Minister of Telecom and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation, has recently confirmed that Russia’s major mobile operators will stop charging extra fees for national roaming services within the first half of this year.
The European Commission recently adopted a set of new initiatives seeking to improve key competences and digital skills of European citizens as well as to promote common value, inclusion and pupils’ awareness of the functioning of the European Union, including:
– A Council Recommendation on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning;
– A Digital Education Action Plan;
– A Council Recommendation on common values, inclusive education and the European dimension of teaching.
On the same theme, the annual Mobile Learning Week, organized by ITU together with UNESCO will take place from 26 to 30 March 2018, in Paris, France, aiming to improve citizens’ digital skills at global level.
Ericsson & MTN have recently announced at MTN’s headquarters, in South Africa, that they proceeded to the first 5G technology and applications trial in Africa. The trial achieved a throughput of more than 20Gbps with less than 5ms latency, this being the highest having ever been achieved on a social mobile network in Africa.
European Commission launched the “EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum” on 21 February 2018 to seize new opportunities offered by blockchain, build expertise, and show leadership in the field. Major players from traditional sectors, such as banks, insurances, stock exchanges, and logistics, are already on board in pilot projects. The goal is to build on the existing initiatives across borders, solidify expertise, and address the potential challenges created by the new paradigms enabled by blockchain. The European Commission has been supporting blockchain projects through the European Union’s research schemes FP7 and Horizon 2020 since 2013. Up to 2020, it will fund projects that could draw on blockchain technologies for up to €340 million.
Telecommunications and postal services H.E. Mr Siyabonga Cwele, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services of South Africa, called for more public WIFI zones during the Gauteng Technology Innovation Conference which took place on 1 February in Johannesburg. South Africa Connect aims to deliver 100% broadband connectivity to government facilities by 2020. It is also expected to deliver broadband access to 90% of the country’s population by 2020 and 100% by 2030.
The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2018 launched by the GSMA in February shows for the first time how big the gender gap is with regard to mobile Internet use among low- and middle-income countries. Moreover, it emphasizes the ongoing gender disparity in mobile ownership as well as the obstacles to ownership and use. The report finds that, on average, women are 10% less likely to own a mobile phone than men, which translates into 184 million fewer women owning mobile phones. In addition, women are, on average, 26% less likely to use mobile internet than men. Even among mobile owners, women are 18% less likely than men to use mobile Internet.
In collaboration with the UN Office of the High Representative for the LDCs, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), ITU presented a new report on ICTs, LDCs and the SDGs: Achieving universal and affordable Internet in the least developed countries. The report highlights the opportunities offered by ICTs to address development challenges existing in the world’s most vulnerable countries. In this view, the report analyzes the recent ICT developments achieved by LDCs and underlines progress towards the fulfilment of UN Sustainable Development Goal 9.c (augmentation of access to ICTs). LDCs have made great progress in expanding mobile services and networks and by early 2017, 61 per cent of the population in LDCs was covered by a mobile broadband signal and the price of mobile broadband services continues to fall rapidly.
“Bridging the Rural Digital Divide” report was published in February by the OECD’s Working Party on Communication Infrastructure and Services Policy. It examines recent policy and technology approaches to bridging the digital divide in rural and remote areas in OECD countries. According to the report, despite advances in recent years, gaps between urban and rural areas remain considerable and the chief obstacle to providing service often remains one of higher cost in some geographical areas compared to others.
A telehealth service supported by the Novartis Foundation in Ghana is to be scaled up as part of the country’s national eHealth efforts. The service uses mobile technology to connect community health workers to specialist health professionals via teleconsultation centers staffed around the clock by doctors, nurses and midwives. Dr. Ann Aerts from Novartis Foundation and Dr. Koku Awoonor-Williams of the Ghana Health Service recently co-authored an op-ed, “The Promise of Telemedicine”, about the success of the national telemedicine programme in Ghana.
While having basic mobile connectivity for some developing markets in Asia is still beyond reach, one exception is Myanmar. While the country’s Internet penetration is still relatively low at 34%, the rate of mobile connections is fast approaching 100%. Myanmar’s telecom sector has been booming since opening up to foreign competition in 2013, and recently, its three mobile operators – MPT, Ooredoo Myanmar and Telenor Myanmar – revealed that they had reached a combined 50 million subscribers. More on this in Danial Mausoof’s, Head of Strategic Marketing and Corporate Affairs, Asia Pacific and Japan, Nokia, editorial “Journey to Connect Rural Maynmar.”
Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General, called for recognition of the achievements of women and inspires others to act for gender equality around the world as part of the celebration of International Women’s Day. In his blog post – the Time is Now for Gender Equality in Tech – Mr. Zhao states that “the ITU stands committed to press for gender equality in the field of ICTs and along with infrastructure, investment, innovation and inclusivity is one the four pillars (“4 I’s”) that will help us bridge the digital divide, including the gender digital divide.”
The 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 12 to 23 March 2018, under the theme of: Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. The Review theme is: Participation in and access of women to the media, and information and communications technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) will take place from 19-23 March 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland and will be co-organized by ITU, UNESCO, UNDP and UNCTAD. The focus of this will be the following: “Leveraging ICTs to Build Information and Knowledge Societies for Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”. In this context, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development will have the chance to hold a Special Dialogue on Thursday 22nd March to discuss the new “Targets 2025: Connecting the Other Half”, and the potential practical solutions to connect the unconnected.
The Mobile Learning Week will take place in Paris, France, from 26-30 March 2018 under the theme “Skills for a connected world.”
UNCTAD E-Commerce Week will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, from 16 to 20 April 2018 and will place particular emphasis on the Development Dimension of Digital Platforms.
The Spring Meeting of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development will be held in Kigali, Rwanda, from 6-7 May 2018 under the leadership of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Co-Chair of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, in conjunction with GSMA. This meeting will be held in conjunction with Transform Africa Summit 2018 will also take place in Kigali, Rwanda, from 7 to 10 May 2018. The event is an initiative by the Smart Africa where Heads of State and government, companies, NGO’s and academics will have the opportunity to gather and exchange ideas to help drive Africa’s digital transformation.