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Progress Update – UN Falls Short on Global Universal Broadband Goals

Monday, September 21st, 2015 (2:12 pm) - Score 412

Five years ago the United Nations (UN) set four key global digital development targets for Internet access and broadband connectivity, which were supposed to be achieved by 2015. But the latest report from the UN’s Broadband Commission reveals that they’ve still got a lot of work to do.

The UN has at times been criticised for being better at setting goals than delivering upon them and the latest annual progress update on their digital development targets will do little to discourage that view.

At the same time most of the progress that has been made appears, at least in our view, to have been driven primarily by natural market competition and demand, rather than through pressure or resources (if any) provided via the UN itself.

United Nations Digital Broadband Development Targets (2015)

1. Making broadband policy universal.

GOAL: By 2015, all countries should have a national broadband plan or strategy or include broadband in their Universal Access / Service Definitions.

CURRENT: So far 148 countries have adopted a national plan or strategy (up from 140 last year) and a further 6 countries are planning to adopt a plan. However a total of 42 countries still do not have any form of plan.

2. Making broadband affordable.

GOAL: By 2015, entry-level broadband services should be made affordable in developing countries through adequate regulation and market forces (for example, amount to less than 5% of average monthly income).

CURRENT: By 2014, 111 countries had met the Broadband Commission target of 5% per capita, up from 108 countries in 2013. However in many of the world’s poorest countries, where broadband could potentially have the greatest benefit in terms of bridging development gaps, even basic broadband service remains “prohibitively expensive“.

Overall, of the 111 countries mentioned above, 44 were developed nations and 67 were developing countries (compared with 57 developing countries at the end of 2013 and 48 developing countries at the end of 2012).

3. Connecting homes to broadband.

GOAL: By 2015, 40% of households in developing countries should have Internet access.

CURRENT: Overall 46.4% of households across the world now have Internet access, although this falls to just 34.1% in developing countries (up from 31.2% last year) and that should surpass 35.3% by the end of 2015. The UN concedes that the rate at which households are becoming connected has “slowed significantly” and that this target is thus “very unlikely to be achieved before 2018 at the earliest” (last year they said 2017 at the earliest).

4. Getting people online.

GOAL: By 2015, Internet user penetration should reach 60% worldwide, 50% in developing countries and 15% in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

CURRENT: By the end of 2015 the ITU projects that 3.2 billion people or some 43.4% of the global population will be online, which falls to 35.3% in developing countries and 9.5% in LDCs. Suffice to say that this is also “far behind the target” and is not expected to be achieved until around 2020.

In fairness there has been a fair bit of progress since the original goals were first set, although as we say it would be difficult to attribute much of that solely to the UN’s goal setting. A lot of it has also emanated from developed countries, while developing nations continue to lag behind and many of the targets for them won’t be hit until 2020 or later.

Meanwhile the UN is already polishing up a new set of commitments for future years, although they might want to work on achieving the original goals first. Back in 2013 Dr Hamadoun Touré, ITU Secretary-General, hinted that one idea could be to set a new Goal 20-20 by 2020 to ensure that everybody in the world can access broadband speeds of 20Mbps (Megabits) for $20 a month (£13+) by 2020, but this proposal doesn’t appear to have survived.

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