Digital technologies ought to form the foundation of education and skills-building as communities continue to adapt to the realities brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, officials heard on Sunday, during this year’s Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development meeting in New York. Every year, the Broadband Commission, made up of public and private sector leaders, makes policy recommendations centered on improving broadband connectivity to accelerate progress towards achieving the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “We have made significant progress globally in ensuring universal access to broadband continues to improve, but much remains to be done, said Paula Ingabire, Minister of ICT and Innovation. Minister Ingabire represented President Paul Kagame who is the Co-Chair of the Commission. The commission is co-chaired between President Kagame and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. “We must continue to strive for universal access to meaningful, safe, secure, and sustainable broadband communications services that are reflective of human and children's rights. Public-private partnerships continue to be a key tactic towards enabling us to achieve this objective. Advocacy needed About 2.7 billion people— one third of the global population—still lack access to the internet, with even fewer people enjoying reliable broadband access, according to the latest statistics from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). With only three years left to meet the Commission's set of seven targets, the meeting set out to address the remaining gaps for reaching universal broadband connectivity. “The successful expansion and rapid adoption of high-speed connectivity experienced over the recent decades, and especially over the last two years of the pandemic, has been transformative for our daily lives, societies and economies, said Commission Co-Chair Carlos Slim. “Digital services that have proven so essential during this crisis are however still out of reach, too expensive or complicated to use for too many people around the world,” he added. Meanwhile, the meeting that comes ahead of the U.N.'s Transforming Education Summit at the opening of the 77th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, called for universal, inclusive and affordable connectivity for the digital transformation of education. “Accelerating broadband for the new realities of a rapidly changing world is as important as it is timely, said Catherine. Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF and a Commissioner of the Broadband Commission. “Three years since UNICEF and ITU launched the Giga initiative with this group of Commissioners, we have connected more than 2 million children to the Internet. However, the global learning crisis remains real and the pandemic has made it worse. The Transforming Education Summit is a rare opportunity to drive new commitments and investments in innovation so we can reach every child. Smaller businesses can make big contributions Officials also explored innovative approaches to increasing affordability of access to digital services and devices—including for home-based work and learning—with a focus on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and the most vulnerable populations. Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, a Co-Vice Chair of the Commission welcomed the move to feature micro, small and medium enterprises in the latest ‘state of broadband report’. “Innovation does not come just from big industries. Startups and entrepreneurs make vital contributions in this area, and we should continue to work toward ensuring greater participation from small businesses throughout ITU's work. Over 40 Commissioners and representatives attended the meeting comprising government leaders, as well as heads of international organizations, private sector companies, civil society and academia. Among other topics, participants discussed how connectivity and technological innovations are enabling swift adaptation to hybrid education; empowering learners through open education resources and data; building capacities of civil servants for effective digital transformation; and providing platforms for strengthening the literacy necessary for navigating digital spaces.