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Wireless broadband use up but least developed countries left behind, UN reports

Photo: ITU
Photo: ITU

Wireless broadband use up but least developed countries left behind, UN reports

With nearly two out of every five people in the world online by the end of the year, more than two-thirds of those living in developing countries will not have access to the Internet, the United Nations today reported in a global survey of broadband access.

The report, the second produced by the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, surveyed broadband access in 160 economies around the world. It reviewed progress on price, household and individual access, government broadband policy and gender, and access to high-speed technology.

“As the world becomes increasingly digital, simple connectivity is no longer enough. Affordable broadband must be within reach of people, businesses and governments in all corners of the world,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the launch of the report.

The world needs to see the same kind of rapid and equitable spread of broadband that it experienced with mobile phones, Mr. Ban stressed to the eight meeting of the Commission in New York.

According to the report findings, while Internet penetration globally will reach 38.8 per cent by the end of 2013, more than two-thirds of people in developing countries will still remain unconnected.

In addition, more than 90 per cent of the people in the 49 least developed countries are without broadband access.

“Internet, and particularly broadband Internet, has become a key tool for social and economic development, and needs to be prioritized, even in the world's poorest nations,” said the Secretary-General of the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Hamadoun Touré. He serves as co-Vice chair of the Commission with Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Mobile broadband subscriptions, which allow users to access the web via smartphones, tablets and WiFi-connected laptops, are growing at a rate of 30 per cent per year, according to the report.

By the end of 2013 there will be more than three times as many mobile broadband connections as there are conventional fixed broadband subscriptions making mobile broadband the “fastest growing technology in human history,” according UNESCO.

The Internet “can widen access to learning, enhance its quality and empower men and women, girls and boys, with new skills and opportunities. But this does not happen by itself – it requires leadership, planning and action,” Ms. Bokova said urging greater action to bridge the gap with countries being left behind.

There are more than 70 economies where more than half the population now has access to the Internet, according to the report.

The top ten countries in the world for Internet use are all located in Europe, except for New Zealand in eighth place and Qatar in tenth. Of those, the top seven - headed by Iceland and Norway - have Internet access of over 90 per cent.

For the first time, the report also tracks a new target mandating 'gender equality in broadband access by the year 2020', which was set by the Commission at its March meeting in Mexico City.

ITU figures confirm that women worldwide are less likely to have access to technology than their male counterparts. While the gap is relatively small in the developed world, it widens enormously as average income levels fall.

A separate report of the Commission's Working Group on Gender led by UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark, was also released at today's meeting.

The Broadband Commission has emphasizes the importance of broadband access as a way to accelerate the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) pertaining education, which aims to achieve universal primary education for boys - and particularly girls - by the year 2015.

The UN is currently in its 1,000 days of action to spur progress towards meeting all eight anti-poverty targets, and will discuss the MDGs and the post-2015 development agenda at the high-level debate of the General Assembly which starts at the UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

Today's meeting was attended by over 50 Commission members, as well as UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Special Envoy for Youth Ahmad Alhindawi and Academy Award winning actor and advocate, Geena Davis.

Set up by the ITU and UNESCO in 2010, the Broadband Commission for Digital Development aims to boost the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda and believes that expanding broadband access in every country is key to accelerating progress towards the achieving all MDGs.