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United Nations Expands Growing Role in International Broadband Policy

UN Secretary General Empowers Nations to Close Digital Divide


In December 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s video message to the opening of the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai summed up the growing influence of the global body in broadband policies. It also highlighted the prominence of broadband as the facilitator of numerous national and societal initiatives:

Information and communications technologies are transforming our world — opening doors, educating and empowering people, saving lives.

Why is Increasing Broadband Adoption so Important to Society?

The Arab Spring showed the power of information and communications technology to help people voice their legitimate demands for human rights and greater accountability. As we strive to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and shape the post-2015 development agenda, expanding the benefits of information and communications technology will be crucial.

In the coming days, you will review the agreement that underpins how we communicate with each other across the globe. Our overall objective must be to ensure universal access to information and communications technology, including for the two thirds of the world’s population currently not online.

A digital divide has no place in the information age and twenty-first-century knowledge economy. The management of information and communication technology should be transparent, democratic and inclusive. I am gratified that you have taken steps to open the process, including the vital voices of civil society and the private sector.

The United Nation system stands behind the goal of an open Internet. The right to communicate is central to the ITU’s mission. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom of expression across all media and all frontiers. As the World Summit on the Information Society affirmed, the free flow of information and ideas is essential — for peace, development, human rights and our common progress.

These freedoms are indispensable. We must continue to work together and find consensus on how to effectively keep cyberspace open, accessible, affordable and secure for all. I trust that together, Governments, industry and civil society will rise to this occasion.

The United Nation's Broadband Commission for Digital Development stated four global broadband policy targets for ensuring universal and affordable broadband access. The four goals are as follows:

  • Target 1: Making broadband policy universal. By 2015, all countries should have a national broadband plan or strategy or include broadband in their Universal Access / Service Definitions.
  • Target 2: Making broadband affordable. By 2015, entry-level broadband services should be made affordable in developing countries through adequate regulation and market forces (amounting to less than 5% of average monthly income).
  • Target 3: Connecting homes to broadband. By 2015, 40% of households in developing countries should have Internet access.
  • Target 4: Getting people online. By 2015, Internet user penetration should reach 60% worldwide, 50% in developing countries and 15% in LDCs.

United Nations Assumes Major Role in Broadband Deployment; Broadband Enables Sustainable Development and Economic Prosperity

The membership of the UN's Broadband Commission includes top telecommunication industry leaders, senior policymakers and government representatives, international agencies, as well as academia and private organizations. The Commission embraces a range of different perspectives in a multi-stakeholder approach to promoting the roll-out of broadband, as well as providing a fresh approach to UN and business engagement.

The National Broadband Plan in the United States

The Broadband Commission was originally established as a special United Nations body to engage in advocacy and to demonstrate that broadband networks:

  • are basic infrastructure in a modern society - just like roads, electricity or water;
  • are uniquely powerful tools for accelerating progress towards the MDGs;
  • are remarkably cost-effective and offer impressive returns-on-investment (ROI) in both developed and developing economies alike;
  • underpin all industrial sectors and are increasingly the foundation of public services and social progress;
  • need to be promoted by governments in joint partnership with industry, in order to reap the full benefits of broadband networks and services.

ITU: Regulation of the Internet Still a Global Priority - Lack of consensus at conference in Dubai raises priority of the issue

According to the Commission's charter contained on their website, "the Broadband Commission believes that high-speed, high-capacity broadband connections to the Internet are an essential element in modern society, conferring broad social and economic benefits. Without broadband infrastructure and services, developing countries risk exclusion from participation in the burgeoning global digital economy. The Commission aims to promote the adoption of broadband-friendly practices and policies, so all the world’s people can take advantage of the benefits of broadband.

Another UN body, (Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly) declared access to the Internet a basic human right which enables individuals to "exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression."

The broadband report from the UN Human Rights Council was released after the seventeenth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and is titled "Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue." In addition to the basic right to Internet access, the report also cites the global community's responsibility to spur global efforts to increase broadband availability in nations.

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