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UN wants 3.7b offline people connected as MTN expands rural connectivity 

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The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an arm of the UNITED Nations in charge of global telecommunications, has said that 51 per cent of the world population was online in 2019.
   
ITU in its newly-launched Measuring Digital Development: Facts and figures 2020 report estimates that 51 per cent of the world population or four billion people were online in 2019.
   
Invariably, this means that 3.7 billion people were not connected to the Internet and were therefore not able to take advantage of the transformative power of information and communication technologies (ICTs). This number is higher than the estimate of 3.6 billion given in the 2019 edition of Facts and Figures.
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In Nigeria, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said there are still some 114 access gaps, with about 30 million Nigerians without basic telephony service. As of October, Nigeria had 152.9 million Internet users via the narrowband, while 87.6 million (45.9 per cent) of the people enjoyed faster Internet via broadband facilities.
   
Yesterday, in a statement, MTN said it is extending telecommunications coverage to millions of Nigerians living in underserved and unserved communities nationwide through its rural telephony programme.
    
Today, over 20 million Nigerians live in areas with limited or no coverage, with MTN saying it aims to change this. Through the rural telephony programme kicked off this year, the company said it identified over 3,000 locations across the country for a phased rollout, over three years.
   
Thus far, 583 live rural sites have been installed nationwide; more than half of which were installed this year to connect communities such as Kurba, Agbiyi Umuede, Tobolo, Opaha, Tudun Faila, Oguru Uzo Uwani and Sarkin Kaya Rini. Going forward, MTN plans to install more than 1,000 new sites each year in the next few years to cover all the identified locations.
   
To achieve this goal, MTN has been working with technology partners.

“Together, they are deploying infrastructure that will accelerate connectivity and aid the consistent rollout of low-cost connectivity solutions in these areas that have non-existence or limited network coverage and broadband services,” MTN stated.

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Speaking on this initiative, Chief Operating Officer, MTN Nigeria, Mazen Mroue, said: “Our core belief is that everyone deserves the benefits of modern, connected life. It is driven by an understanding of the potential impact of connectivity on the socioeconomic outcomes of individuals, communities and the country as a whole. This belief drives our rural expansion goals and fuels our commitment to continue pushing until everyone is connected.”

MEANWHILE, explaining how it came about the data, ITU said twice every year, its statisticians collect data on telecommunication and ICT infrastructure, access, and use for about 200 economies.
   
The data was typically sourced from regulators and national statistical offices, cover the previous three years, and formed the basis of modelled estimates for the current year.
   
Following this procedure, in 2019, ITU estimated that 54 per cent of the world’s population was using the Internet in 2019 – that was 4.1 billion people.
  
Also, ITU said in its data collection in 2020 that it received new data for 2019 and revised data for previous years. Based on this new and revised data, ITU adjusted its 2019 estimate down from 54 to 51 per cent – that is from 4.1 to 4.0 billion people using the Internet.
  
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted normal patterns and trends in ICT statistics, as well as people’s behaviour in using (or not using) ICTs.
  
This, according to the United Nations arm in charge of global telecommunications, means for some of the indicators, including the number of Internet users, ITU statisticians were not able to produce estimates for 2020.

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ITU said this revised number underscores the urgency of advancing universal connectivity to bring 3.7 billion people online even more.
According to it, in the wake of the COVID crisis, there can no longer be any doubt that dramatically accelerating progress on everyone of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) means making considerable headway to extend digital connectivity to the 3.7 billion still totally cut off from the online world.
  
The body noted that one thing this pandemic has dramatically and irrevocably reinforced is the vital importance of connectivity. “ICT networks and services are helping us continue our important work, stay in touch with family, and keep our children learning through remote schooling,”
   
In other words, ITU said connectivity has been the “hidden hero” of this crisis. It, however, noted that billions of people around the world still have no connectivity at all. Accordingly, it added that also many hundreds of millions more struggle with access that is too slow, too costly, and too unreliable to have made meaningful difference to their lives during the crisis.

“So when we set about defining a ‘new normal’ for our post-COVID world, let us agree that this ‘new normal’ must be based on inclusive connectivity for all, and access to broadband for everyone,” ITU noted.

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