The Broadband Commission was originally established in 2010 by the ITU and UNESCO as the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in response to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call to boost the UN's efforts to reach the millennium development goals.
In 2015, following the adoption of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the Broadband Commission was relaunched as the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, with the aim of showcasing and promoting information and communication technologies (ICTs) and broadband-based technologies for sustainable development by putting digital co-operation into action.
Led by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helù of Mexico, it is co-chaired by ITU’s Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. It comprises over 50 commissioners who represent a cross-cutting group of top CEOs and industry leaders, senior policymakers and government representatives, and experts from international agencies, academia, and organisations concerned with development.
The Broadband Commission focuses on closing the digital divide and promoting broadband development in developing countries and underserved communities, ensuring that all countries reap the benefits of digital technologies. The Broadband Commission's efforts are detailed in the annual State of Broadband report, and take the form of thematic working groups and regular meetings and advocacy activities at the margins of flagship events such as WEF (Davos), GSMA MWC, IGF, HLPF, WSIS, and UNCTAD e-Commerce week.
In 2018, the Broadband Commission set seven objectives in its 2025 Targets initiative to help ‘connect the other half’ of the world’s population by expanding broadband infrastructure and access to the Internet.
Digital policy issues
- Telecommunications infrastructure
The Broadband Commission promotes the adoption of practices and policies that enable the deployment of broadband networks at the national level, especially among developing countries. It engages in advocacy activities aimed to demonstrate that broadband networks are basic infrastructure in modern societies and could accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. The Broadband Commission publishes an annual State of the Broadband Report, providing a global overview of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by-country data measuring broadband access.
The Broadband Commission also launched a number of the working groups focused on ICT connectivity, including the World Bank led: Working group on Broadband for all: a ’Digital Infrastructure Moonshot’ for Africa and the Working Group on 21st Century Financing Models for Sustainable Broadband Development in 2019. These initiatives aim to provide governments and policymakers with a set of policy recommendations to foster innovative financing and investment strategies to achieve the Broadband Commission's targets for broadband connectivity and adoption.
The ongoing global pandemic has put at the forefront the vital role that broadband networks and services play in making economies and societies work, In response to the effects of the pandemic, the Broadband Commission adopted the Agenda for Action: For Faster and Better Recovery to accelerate the world’s response. This initiative includes immediate and long-term efforts that governments, global industry, civil society, and international organisations can undertake to support the development and strengthening of digital networks that remain so integral to our economy and society. The three pillars of resilient connectivity, affordable access, and safe use of online services provide a framework for all commissioners to mitigate the adverse effects of COVID-19 and lay the foundation for a better and faster recovery.
When advocating for the rollout of broadband infrastructure and bridging the digital divide, the Broadband Commission underlines the increasing importance of Internet access and adoption as an enabler of sustainable growth and development. It is paying particular attention to aspects related to the deployment of infrastructure in developing countries, education and capacity development, and safety online (particularly for children and youth), as well as the digital gender divide and the empowerment of women in the digital space.
The Broadband Commission advocates for actions to be taken by all relevant stakeholders with the aim to close the digital divide, which is seen as an important step towards the achievement of the SDGs. Its annual State of the Broadband Report looks at the progress made in implementing broadband networks in various countries around the world, which it regards as an essential element in addressing the digital divide.
The Broadband Commission also addresses the impact of digital technologies on specific issues covered by the SDGs. One example is the Working Group on Digital Health, whose final report outlined recommendations for improving human health and well-being by implementing universal digital health coverage. In 2019, the Working Group on Data, Digital, and AI in Health was launched with the aim of raising awareness of the transformative power of data and artificial intelligence (AI) in health systems worldwide.
The Broadband Commission has also been active in environmental and climate change issues; in particular, its activities (ranging from publications and events to advocacy actions) cover the link between climate change and ICTs.
The work of the Broadband Commission contributes to the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which lays out how all stakeholders can play a role in advancing a safer and more equitable digital world. Through its range of working group initiatives and the advocacy of its commissioners, the Broadband Commission is an example of SDG 17: ‘Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.’