It is generally recognized that affordable broadband Internet connectivity is one of the great equalizers in the world when it comes to people of different economic classes. Those who have access to broadband Internet connectivity can do a number of things: they can get educated and certified, they can hunt for jobs, they can keep open connections that might afford them opportunities, and they can keep abreast of the latest information.
The Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which was created in 2010 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), has a goal of promoting the adoption of broadband-friendly practices and policies for all, so everyone can take advantage of the benefits offered by broadband. The Commission is made up of industry executives and government leaders, IT industry thought leaders, policy pioneers, international agencies and organizations concerned with development.
The group recently issued a report, “The State of Broadband 2013: Universalizing Broadband,” and, although the report found that there are still enormous regional and economic gaps when it comes to access to broadband, there was also progress, particularly in the group’s first target of making national broadband policy universal: 134 countries in the world now have a National Broadband Plan (NBP) in place, which is a first step to broadening access.
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In addition, the report finds that access to the Internet itself is becoming more universal thanks to the global mobile phone network.
“The marriage of mobile with modern-day Internet via mobile broadband is opening up new vistas of opportunity – mobile broadband may well ‘bridge the gap’ between the connected and the unconnected,” wrote the report’s authors.
The report finds that the number of mobile subscriptions set to exceed seven billion and overtake the total world population in 2014. Mobile subscriptions in Africa and the Middle-East alone exceeded one billion in the first quarter of 2013.
“The implications are far-reaching,” write the report’s authors. “Mobile phone users will no longer be physically constrained by location. Instead of having to physically attend work, banks, post offices or clinics, mobile phones now act as a gateway to money and communication services, as well as the online world of content, bringing services, books, education and work to mobile phone users, wherever they are. The Internet and mobile were widely credited with the death of distance in future, mobile broadband may be credited with the death of location, as our societies become as mobile as our devices and users.”
While these are positive steps, the report notes that the future is undoubtedly based in broadband, the group’s later targets are unlikely to be achieved on time. Target 2 – making broadband services affordable – has seen mixed progress, good in some countries and poor in others, and targets 3 and 4 (Internet usage and household connectivity) are unlikely to be achieved by the target date of 2015 at current growth rates.
Edited by Alisen Downey