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Broadband Commission seeks uninterrupted Internet access in fight against COVID-19

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Arising from its emergency virtual meeting, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, an arm of the United Nations, has called for an uninterrupted Internet access in the fight against COVID-19.

The Broadband Commission adopted an agenda for action outlining immediate measures that governments, industry, the international community and civil society can take to shore-up digital networks, strengthen capacity at critical connectivity points like hospitals and transport hubs, and boost digital access and inclusivity, with the aim of strengthening collective response to the COVID-19 crisis now sweeping the world.

Built around three pillars including resilient connectivity, affordable access, and safe use for informed and educated societies, the agenda serves as a framework for the Commission’s over 50 commissioners and their organisations to share their own initiatives, make new commitments, and foster collaboration and partnership.

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Over 100 representatives from around the world participated in the virtual meeting, which brought together stakeholders from international organizations, the tech sector, civil society and academia, including global CEOs, heads of agency, and leaders of tech and health industry bodies.​​​​

Special guest at the meeting was UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Advisor, Fabrizio Hochschild, who made an impassioned plea to Commissioners and their organizations to enhance digital cooperation in response to COVID-19, and to do all in their power to combat misinformation and rising inequality, maximize access to relevant data for public good, and protect the millions of additional children joining the online community for the first time in order to connect to remote learning platforms.

Echoing these concerns, Executive Director, UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, said: “This pandemic is doing what any big shock will do, and increasing the distance between those who have and those who do not. In addition to the devastating immediate effects of COVID-19, the secondary impacts on education, jobs, and finances will continue to impact children, and the world’s most vulnerable, disproportionately in the years to come.”

In his opening remarks, ITU Secretary-General and Commission Co-Vice Chair, Houlin Zhao emphasised the vital importance of accelerating global efforts to connect the remaining half of the population still totally without Internet access.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates, making in-roads in the developing world and threatening all of humanity, we need to take immediate action to ensure no one is left behind. This unprecedented crisis shows that nobody is safe until we are all safe. And it shows, with no ambiguity, that we will not unleash the full potential of broadband until we are all connected.”

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At the meeting, it was revealed that developing countries are today home to the vast majority of the estimated 3.6 billion people who remain totally offline.

Representing Commission Co-Chair President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Patrick Nyirishema, Director-General, Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, said the Commission was rising to challenge and “walking the talk” in its efforts to recommend rapid and tangible actions governments, ICT regulators, private companies and the international community could take, individually and collectively, to optimize the power of digital resources to combat the global health crisis. “​​​​​​This pandemic has underscored the vital importance of broadband infrastructure to governments and communities around the world,” he said.

Dr. Carlos M Jarque, participating on behalf of Commission Co-Chair, Carlos Slim, stressed the need to harness technology for the common good. “No past epidemic has had access to the broadband services we have today. Broadband can save lives and mitigate the economic consequences of the pandemic.

“It is important to use networks to disseminate timely information to preserve good health; to support e-learning for the more than 1.5 billion students working from home; to train, by digital means, workers in confinement to increase overall productivity, and to promote e-commerce and digital services.”

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