Accelerating broadband access
President Paul Kagame will today co-chair, along with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, a meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Broadband Commission, in Macedonia.
Kagame and Slim, Honorary Life-time Chairman of Grupo Carso, were selected as co-chairs of the commission, which was established in 2010.
The President arrived in the south-eastern European country, yesterday, and was expected to hold talks with his counterpart, Dr. Gjorge Ivanov, later in that day.
The two were expected to meet in the resort town of Ohrid where the Broadband Commission meeting is being held.
Organisers say today’s meeting will review the Commission’s activities aimed at accelerating global broadband access and discuss a proposed strategy to be presented at the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).
The ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova are co-chairs of the Broadband Commission.
The Macedonia meeting follows the Broadband Leadership Summit that was held in Geneva in October 2011, which set broadband targets for increased access and affordability of broadband services by 2015.
Earlier, from September 8 – 9, 2011, the Broadband Commission convened in Kigali, during which delegates focused on challenges, priorities and strategies that could help wire the African continent to high-speed networks.
The Kigali meeting, attended by 14 commissioners, with three others sending representatives, also served as a preparatory meeting for the October 2011 global Broadband Leadership Summit, in Geneva.
In particular, it explored the best ways of making the youth the drivers of new ICT services, with various young Rwandan technology savvy entrepreneurs sharing their views and innovations. “You are tomorrow’s promise, because of today’s possibilities”, Kagame told the youth at the time.
He added: “African youth possesses the energy, passion and dedication to use these technologies to address global challenges and truly benefit from ICT. Our duty as leaders is to build the right environment and promote the necessary investments to allow them to fulfill their potential. Let us not wait another century to recognise that broadband was another missed opportunity for Africa”.
Under Kagame’s leadership, Rwanda has prioritised ICT, and made significant investments designed to make internet faster, more accessible and affordable.
Last year, the government completed the rollout of a 2,300 kilometre fibre optic telecommunications network across Rwanda, expected to link the country to undersea cables running along the east African coast. The government, which says it wants to build an ICT-driven economy, has also distributed free laptops to thousands of school children, under the ‘One Laptop per Child’ project.
Broadband (high-speed internet access) is believed to be the single most powerful tool available to accelerate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and to drive socio-economic development.
“In the 21st century, with broadband, no young African should ever again need to be sent abroad in order to enjoy the benefits of an excellent education,” ITU’s Dr Touré told the Kigali meeting.
“If you are connected, it no longer matters if you are geographically or socially isolated; you are still connected to the information society. But if you are not connected, you are – literally – cut off from a whole portion of the world’s riches,” he added.
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).
“Broadband is no longer a luxury…it is a core infrastructure of the modern economy. Those who have it will prosper, those who don’t will fall further behind, “said Touré.
The Commission was established in May 2010 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 MDGs.
It defines practical ways in which countries – at all stages of development – can achieve this, in cooperation with the private sector.
The Commission comprises a high-powered community, including top CEO and industry leaders, senior policy-makers and government representatives, international agencies, academia and organisations concerned with development.
Leaders in their field, they each believe strongly in a future based on broadband and offer rich insights and experience in how to deploy and use broadband networks and services to the benefit of communities and end-users.
According to ITU, worldwide, on average, consumers were paying 50 per cent less for high-speed Internet connections by early last year, than they were two years earlier. The fall was mainly a result of decreases in the extremely high cost of broadband in developing countries.
However, Africa continues to stand out for its relatively high prices, with fixed broadband Internet access, in particular, prohibitively expensive, according to ITU. “By 2010, only one out of nine people in Africa had access to the Internet, and fixed broadband penetration was just 0.2 per cent, compared to 24 per cent in Europe and 26 per cent in the United States,” it said.
Speaking about the Broadband Commission’s work, the ITU boss recently said: “The Commission has achieved some notable policy successes – for example, it has succeeded in boosting ICTs and broadband on the global policy agenda, as well as in the outcome proceedings of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Istanbul in May 2011, and its work has also been cited by the UN General Assembly.”
The Commission has published two key reports; “A 2010 Leadership Imperative: Towards a Future Built on Broadband”, and “Broadband: A Platform for Progress”, in June 2011.
With Broadband technology, internet is not only more affordable faster than a normal dial-up connection.