By Adeyemi Adepetun
HOPE rose yesterday for the about 2.9 billion people across the world that are currently without access to Internet connectivity, as governments and firms pledged over $18.5 billion to support global access.
This was the high point of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC), which was concluded in Kigali, Rwanda, yesterday. The fund was facilitated at the Partner2Connect (P2C) Digital Development Roundtable session, where over 360 pledges representing an estimated combined financial value of $18.55 billion was sealed.
ITU, the communications arm of the United Nations (UN), explained that the pledges were largely unprecedented support from governments and companies to expand Internet access everywhere as a key aspect of sustainable development.
Checks showed that in Nigeria, while there are 148 million Internet users, largely from the narrowband, statistics from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) showed that there are still 114 access gaps, with some 25 million Nigerians still without access to basic telephony services.
Nigeria, as a strategic member of the ITU is expected to benefit from the $18.5 billion pledge for improved global connectivity.
According to the global telecoms body, the drive for universal and meaningful connectivity represented in the P2C pledges will directly benefit billions of people around the world, especially in developing countries where connectivity is lagging.
ITU explained that the funding, services, technical support, and other assistance detailed in the pledges will improve people’s access to – and readiness for – digital technologies, as well as fostering digital ecosystems and incentivizing investment in digital transformation.
ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, said: “the Partner2Connect Digital Development Roundtable will prove to be a tipping point. The pledges and commitments made in Kigali and in the months leading to this Roundtable send a powerful message that together we can ramp up investments in ICT development to leave no one offline.”
Already, some 2.9 billion people – or more than one third of the world’s population – have still never connected to the Internet.
Rwanda’s Minister for ICT and Innovation, Paula Ingabire, Chair of the WTDC, said: “We need everybody to pull together in the same direction if we are to successfully address the challenge of ensuring universal meaningful connectivity globally. Partner2Connect is one of the best avenues through which we can catalyse and engage in productive partnerships towards sustainable connectivity for all.”
The P2C pledges come at a critical inflection point, with the protracted COVID-19 pandemic underlining the importance of fast, reliable broadband connectivity as an essential service.
The pledges announced at the Roundtable were not only financial – they also included ground-breaking commitments, policies and advocacy plans to bridge the digital divide, creating fertile ground where new partnerships and alliances for global connectivity can flourish.
“After months of collective work developing the Partner2Connect Action Framework and the pledging platform, together with ITU Member States, civil society groups, philanthropic organizations, private and youth-led organizations, we are now setting a major milestone by gathering under one umbrella an unprecedented number of commitments to advance universal and meaningful connectivity,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, Minister of Communications and Digitalisation of Ghana and Focus Area Leader of the P2C Coalition, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, said: “Our Partner2Connect Coalition commits us to accelerate our efforts to connect the unconnected and achieve sustainable global development. Let us implement all our pledges for our collective benefit.”