The Broadband Commission for Digital Development today issued an Open Letter to G20 leaders urging them to do all they can to promote the development of the broadband networks, applications and services that will serve as the catalyst for future socio-economic growth.
“In the Information Society of the 21st century, countries must make the necessary investments to enable their citizens to participate in and benefit from the digital economy and global innovation – or risk exclusion,” the Letter warns.
Equating the importance of broadband to essential utilities like water, roads, rail and electricity, the Letter states that governments have a key role to play in stimulating broadband deployment by putting in place pro-competitive and pro-investment policies, lowering barriers to entry and making direct investment, where appropriate. It also stresses the fundamental role of the private sector in driving the roll-out of networks and services, and fuelling ongoing innovation.
“This meeting of the G20 is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of the need to promote ‘broadband inclusion for all’ and move it to the top of the international policy agenda,” said ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré. “We must act now to ensure that future generations from all countries, and across all social strata, can take full advantage of the unprecedented power of broadband to extend access to knowledge, to culture, and to vital social services like healthcare, education and e-government.”
Several G20 leaders, such as President Barack Obama are already prioritizing this leadership challenge: “[A key] step in winning the future is rebuilding America. To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information – from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet,” he said.
G20 member Australia was one of the first nations to make broadband a priority, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently stating that the Australian National Broadband Network will “make a difference for everyone around the nation … in terms of our economy, we know that every 10 percentage point increase in broadband penetration delivers in the order of a 1.3 per cent one-off growth boost to the economy.”
Latest ITU figures show that 2.4 billion people are using the Internet. There are now over one billion mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide, and mobile is set to be the access platform of choice for most people in the developing world, where fixed line penetration remains low. However, well over half the world’s people – from those in developing countries, to those living in geographically isolated communities, to marginalized groups like persons living with disabilities, the elderly, the illiterate and house-bound women – are yet to get online. “That makes digital inclusion an important issue that needs to be tackled by every country, not just the world’s poorer nations,” said Dr Touré.
The Broadband Commission will be actively promoting its message of ‘broadband for all’ at other key international gatherings this year, including the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June and the United Nations General Assembly in New York September.