unctad.org | World Economic Forum: 3rd official session of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development
Statement by Mr. Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
World Economic Forum: 3rd official session of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development
Davos, Switzerland
21 Jan 2016

Working together to connect affordable access
[Talking Points]

Broadband is important for development - big divides remain

  1. Broadband connectivity is of great importance to make full use of the potential of the Internet, such as for e-commerce, trade in services and cloud computing. Broadband is the part of the digital landscape where divides are most pronounced:

    • Low-income countries have relatively low penetration of broadband e.g:
      • Fixed Broadband subscriptions: Africa 1 vs. Europe 30 per 100 inhabitants
      • Mobile Broadband subscriptions: Africa 17 vs. Europe 78 per 100 inhabitants
    • For Broadband users, the average speeds tend to be much lower in low-income countries.
    • The average cost of Broadband tends to be much higher in low-income countries.

  2. Add to this the general lack of "secure servers" and "data centres" in developing countries, often forcing users to make use of such facilities far away, at high cost and high latency.

  3. The end result is that people and businesses in low-income countries find themselves at a major disadvantage in terms of their ability to reap benefits from the Internet and to compete.

  4. UNCTAD's recommendations, as mentioned in the Information Economy Report 2013 are:

    • Improve the provision of reliable broadband infrastructure, including through public-private partnership.
    • Mobile broadband is likely to be the most feasible approach in the short term - most Internet use in low-income countries currently is over wireless networks.
    • More attention should be given to the quality of broadband. Different online services require varying broadband quality in terms of upload/download speed, as well as latency.
    • Competitive pressure should be ensured at all stages in the broadband network to promote efficiency and lower prices.
    • The establishment of Internet Exchange Points should be promoted to reduce the need for data to travel outside the country.

Hard infrastructure is not enough; soft infrastructure, institutions and laws are needed

  1. An important message is that improved affordable connectivity needs to be accompanied by other efforts for countries to reap full advantage of access to high-speed Internet.

  2. Take electronic commerce, which offers considerable opportunities for smaller businesses in developing countries to reach export markets and connect with Global Value Chains. (Information Economy Report of 2015).

  3. E-commerce relies on access to affordable Internet access, and preferably at broadband speed. But in order for e-commerce to flourish, there is also a need for:

    • Access to payment solutions to facilitate online or mobile payments.
    • Adequate laws and regulations, such as for data protection and privacy, cybercrime and consumer protection online. UNCTAD's Global Cyberlaw Tracker shows for example that in Africa, less than 40 per cent of the countries have data protection and privacy laws in place, compared with virtually 100 per cent of the developed countries.
    • Improved trade and logistics, making trade facilitation and efficient customs handling important.
    • Better skills and awareness among governments, businesses and households about the potential as well as risks associated with e-commerce.
  4. Main point: infrastructure alone is not enough for ICTs to serve as an effective means of implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Different ICTs should be effectively combined

  1. Another point related to the link between ICTs and Sustainable Development: it is important to see different technologies as complements rather than substitutes.

  2. For smallholder farmers, the most urgent need right now may be to have access to a normal phone, rather than to broadband. Mobile phones are relatively easy to use (even for those that are illiterate), relatively cheap and can help to access information, to communicate and to transfer money.

  3. However, the farmer can use his phone to connect with someone who has access to Broadband Internet and thereby, indirectly, benefit from an improved Broadband infrastructure in his country.

  4. The main point is that we need to look holistically at the ICT ecosystem and leverage both old and new technologies when we consider the potential of ICTs as a means of implementation of the SDGs.


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