The International Telecommunication Union, a UN-backed internet and telecoms agency, has launched a new programme to bridge the digital divide in poor countries by 2030.
The new initiative, called the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition, aims to foster “meaningful connectivity and digital transformation in the world’s hardest-to-connect countries,” the ITU said.
The target economies include the world's least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing nations and small island developing states that are designated for priority assistance in pursuit of the UN-backed Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, it added.
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted LDCs in “unprecedented, profound and disproportionate ways,” ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao said.
“Through partnerships with UN agencies, ITU aims to support 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,” said Mr Zhao.
The coronavirus pandemic forced countries last year to impose widespread restrictions on movement and prompted offices and schools to transition to remote working. However, the outbreak also exposed the steep digital divide between countries as those with poor connectivity lagged behind.
The internet penetration rate is 87 per cent in developed countries but only 47 per cent in developing countries - and 19 per cent in LDCs, a report by the ITU showed.
As the pandemic increasingly continues to drive economic, educational and social activities online, the world’s 46 LDCs are struggling to extend connectivity to all their citizens, the ITU found.
While internet coverage and affordability are gradually improving in some LDCs, only 25 per cent of users across all these countries have started using the internet. Almost 50 per cent of people who need to access the internet are not using it, the ITU’s latest data on internet connectivity showed.
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 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,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the director of the ITU's telecoms development bureau.
“The new coalition recognises that progress can only be achieved through a multi-stakeholder-based approach.
“Based on the principles of inclusion, partnership and [Sustainable Development Goals]-focused digital development, the Partner2Connect Coalition can pave the way to the Global Digital Compact and the 2023 UN Summit of the Future,” she added.
The compact and the summit are among the main events on the UN Common Agenda, presented this month by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
"Half of humanity has no access to the internet. We must connect everyone by 2030," said Mr Guterres at one of sessions of the 76th UN General Assembly on Tuesday.
The latest coalition actions will focus on four key areas - connecting people everywhere, empowering communities, building digital ecosystems and incentivising investments. It intends to create a platform for global leaders to mobilise commitments, resources and partnerships to enact solutions to drive digital transformation.