Traditional approaches to driving internet network roll-out and uptake are failing to reach the remaining half of the global population still lacking online access, according to a new report issued by the ITU-UNESCO-founded Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.
The report – The State of Broadband 2019: Broadband as Foundation for Sustainable Development – reveals that global growth in the percentage of households connected to the internet is slowing, rising only slightly to 54.8 percent from 53.1 percent last year. However, in low-income countries, household internet adoption improved by a mere 0.8 percent on average.
Data on individuals using the internet also indicated slowing global growth in 2018, as well as a slowing growth in developing countries, which are home to the vast majority of the estimated 3.7 billion still unconnected.
The report calls for new collaborative strategies to drive the concept of ‘meaningful universal connectivity’: broadband that is available, accessible, relevant and affordable, but also that is safe, trusted, user-empowering and leads to positive impact. This, the report suggests, should happen through greater emphasis on resource sharing and a more holistic approach that treats broadband as a basic public utility and vital enabler of global development.
The State of Broadband 2019 also reports that while almost one billion new mobile subscribers have been added in the five years since 2013 (4.2 percent average annual growth), the speed of growth in mobile connections is also slowing, particularly at the bottom of the pyramid. Mobile network coverage improved much more slowly in low-income countries, with a mere 22 percent improvement in 4G coverage in the past five years, compared with a 66 percent increase in lower-middle-income countries; 4G will soon become the dominant mobile technology.
Data also show that of the 730 million people expected to subscribe to mobile services for the first time over the next seven years, half will come from Asia-Pacific, and just under a quarter from sub-Saharan Africa.
ITU and UNESCO set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in response to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call to step up UN efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Commission was established in May 2010 with the aim of boosting the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda, and expanding broadband access in every country as key to accelerating progress towards national and international development targets. It defines practical ways in which countries — at all stages of development — can achieve this, in cooperation with the private sector.