Mobile broadband is the fastest growing technology in human history. According to the 2013 edition of the State of Broadband Report, connections are now growing at a rate of 30% per year.
Released in New York at the 8th meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, the report reveals that mobile broadband subscriptions, which allow users to access the web via smartphones, tablets and Wi-Fi-connected laptops, are growing at a rate of 30% per year. By the end of 2013 there will be more than three times as many mobile broadband connections as there are conventional fixed broadband subscriptions.
The State of Broadband is a global snapshot of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by country data measuring broadband access against the four key targets set by the 60 members of the Broadband Commission in 2011.
The data is not definitive, however, as much of it based on ITU estimates without access to local research. In South Africa, the ITU estimates, 41% of individuals have access to the Internet, when the verifiable number is around 28%. The ITU data for South Africa appears to be based on World Bank figures, which use device capability rather than actual usage as a measure.
The Republic of Korea continues to have the world’s highest household broadband penetration at over 97%. Switzerland leads the world in fixed broadband subscriptions per capita, at over 40%. By comparison, the US ranks 24th in terms of household broadband penetration, and 20th in the world for fixed broadband subscriptions per capita, just behind Finland and ahead of Japan.
In terms of Internet use, there are now more than 70 countries where over 50% of the population is online. The top ten countries for Internet use are all located in Europe, with the exception of New Zealand (8th) and Qatar (10th).
‚”The new analysis in this year’s report shows progress in broadband availability, but we must not lose sight of those who are being left behind,‚” said ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Tour√©, who serves as co-Vice Chair of the Commission with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. ‚”While more and more people are coming online, over 90% of people in the world’s 49 Least Developed Countries remain totally unconnected. Internet and particularly broadband Internet has become a key tool for social and economic development, and needs to be prioritized, even in the world’s poorest nations. Technology combined with relevant content and services can help us bridge urgent development gaps in areas like health, education, environmental management and gender empowerment.‚”
‚”The global roll-out of broadband carries vast potential to enhance learning opportunities, to facilitate the exchange of information, and to increase access to content that is linguistically and culturally diverse,‚” said UNESCO’s Irina Bokova. ‚”It can widen access to learning, enhance its quality and empower men and women, girls and boys, with new skills and opportunities. But this does not happen by itself it requires leadership, planning and action.‚”
For the first time, the State of Broadband report also tracks a new target mandating ‚’gender equality in broadband access by the year 2020′, which was set by the Commission at its March meeting in Mexico City. ITU figures confirm that, worldwide, women are less likely to have access to technology than their male counterparts. While the gap is relatively small in the developed world, it widens enormously as average income levels fall.
Addressing a packed room this morning, Commission Co-Chair Carlos Slim Hel√∫ said: ‚”The Millennium Development Goals should be a strong partnership to direct actions at the national and international levels, and they should be a shared responsibility. It is certain that broadband can make a tremendous contribution towards their attainment.‚”
Co-Chair President Paul Kagame told the Commission that ‚”beyond 2015, the way forward should be to unleash the smart use of broadband to enhance delivery of services in education, health care, banking and other sectors. Broadband should also empower young people in the developing world to innovate and be more competitive globally,” he said.
A separate report of the Commission’s Working Group on Gender, led by UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, was also released at today’s meeting.
The full meeting of some 50 Commission members and a host of special guests, including Nigeria’s Minister for Communication Technology, Omobola Johnson: Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Academy Award winning actor and advocate, Geena Davis: and UN Envoy for Youth, Ahmad Alhindawi, saw the establishment of a new Working Group on Financing, which will strive to identify potential solutions to broadband investment to help countries accelerate progress towards the targets. The Working Group will deliver its first findings to the Commission at the next meeting in Dublin, in March 2014.
Other highlights of the meeting included the presentation by Dr Tour√© of the Youth Declaration developed by over 500 young people at the ITU Youth Summit held in Costa Rica (9-11 September) hosted by President Laura Chinchilla, and the launch of a new report by the Task Force on the post-2015 development agenda and future Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which was led by Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg, and which advocates the importance of including ICTs as a central pillar of the global development agenda. The report resulted in a new Manifesto on Sustainable Development which was signed by Commission members.