High Level Session I: Universal, affordable & meaningful connectivity

28 Nov 2022 08:00h - 10:00h

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Event report

Almost half the global population still lacks internet connectivity; and in some countries, it is still slow, unreliable, and expensive.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the way in which connectivity was approached. Connectivity per se is no longer seen as a sufficient goal: to address the issues that come with lack of connectivity, connection should be meaningful. Meaningful connectivity should include those most affected by online inequities such as women, children, migrants, refugees, people with disabilities, rural populations, and indigenous people.

Multistakeholder partnerships will play a central role working towards universal, affordable, and meaningful connectivity. These partnerships should set explicit and measurable goals. Cooperation between governments and private sector deployers of connectivity is needed. Given that connectivity is expensive, private investment is required. Investment requires governments that can guarantee the clarity as incentive for investors, as well as certainties that investments will be stable and sound. Governments should also be ready to point to the areas and communities where industry and community-led infrastructure can be helpful. Civil society organisations should work as watchdogs, auditing the decision making processes.

Many challenges arise in providing affordable and meaningful connectivity across diverse population groups, especially in rural areas. The cost of infrastructure and deployment of technology is often hard to overcome in global south countries. Business models that have worked for global north countries will not necessarily adapt well to other regions, and cannot be imposed without consideration of actual users. Even if the issue of infrastructure is solved, a second problem related to adoption arises. To use digital technologies, users must have proper digital skills and literacy, and the use of local content and local languages is essential. 

What can be done to address the issue of inequality in digital connectivity? Speakers agreed that multistakeholder partnerships and inter-regional cooperation are at the centre of the solution. Representatives of all sectors and regions have to be heard so that solutions respond to their real needs. New business models that are tailored to the specific situations of each region must be developed to address the lack of infrastructure. Infrastructure is especially lacking in rural areas; infrastructure development should now be prioritised for investments and public policy initiatives. Education must also be addressed to achieve meaningful connectivity. It is only with digital literacy training that we can empower people to become content creators as well as consumers; and so, to build a sustainable network that is useful locally, for instance, to promote the availability of content in local languages and to provide local services. Finally, it is also important to develop good quality research to be able to identify and measure the barriers of vulnerable communities and what is required to overcome them.

By Paula Szewach

IGF 2022 HL Leaders Session I