ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. Photo: ITU
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) announced on September 20 the launch of the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation in the world’s hardest-to-connect countries.
These include the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States – groups facing specific development challenges and designated for priority assistance in pursuit of the United Nations-backed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030.
The world’s 46 least developed countries (LDCs) are struggling to extend connectivity to all their citizens – even as pandemic conditions push economic, educational, and social activities increasingly online.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the least developed countries in unprecedented, profound, and disproportionate ways,” said the ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao. “Through partnerships with UN agencies, ITU aims to support the LDCs in the face of this challenge, harness the power of digital technologies, and turn today’s digital transformation into a development transformation for all.”
While Internet coverage and affordability are gradually improving in some LDCs, only 25% of people across all LDCs have started using the Internet. Another 50% are theoretically able to access the Internet but are not using it, according to the latest data on Internet connectivity worldwide.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, said: “In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, ITU has re-doubled its efforts to help countries rapidly expand connectivity to connect the 3.7 billion people who are still offline, along with the millions of communities around the world where connectivity is still too poor to offer meaningful benefits. Based on the principles of inclusion, partnership and SDG-focused digital development, the Partner2Connect Coalition can pave the way to the Global Digital Compact and the 2023 UN Summit of the Future.”
The compact and the summit are among the main milestones in the UN Common Agenda presented by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres. “The new coalition recognizes that progress can only be achieved through a multistakeholder based approach,” Bogdan-Martin added.
A new report, Connectivity in Least Developed Countries – Status report 2021, highlights the persistent digital divide within LDCs. The report, released at the Digital Coalition kick-off, was produced jointly by ITU and the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS).
Along with affordability, the root causes of the wide usage gap include low awareness about the benefits of the Internet, lack of access to devices, insufficient skills, low content relevance, and lack of appropriate regulation.