The session was moderated by Mr Cosmas Zavazava (Chief of Department, Project Support and Knowledge Management, International Telecommunication Union (ITU)) who sought to take stock of progress and share best practices of: promoting information and communication technology (ICT) connectivity and digitalisation of landlocked developing countries (LLDCs); identifying constraints and suggest recommendations for improving the connectivity of LLDCs; supporting efforts towards achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs); and bridging the digital divide.
Mr Sandagdorj Erdenebileg (Chief, Policy Development, Coordination, Monitoring and Reporting Service, UN-OHRLLS) gave an overview of ICT development in LLDCs. Erdenebileg stated that the Vienna Programme of Action gave priorities regarding LLDCs for 2014-2024 in the areas of transiting policy issues, infrastructure development, international trade, regional integration, structural economic transformation; and means of implementation. He revealed that the Midterm Review of the Vienna Programme of Action for LLDCs, was scheduled to take place later in the year in New York. Erdenebileg mentioned that despite the steady rise of mobile cellular telephone subscriptions, underlying constraints and challenges still persist. Namely, the relatively high cost of ICT and broadband services, infrastructural gaps, the high cost of accessing submarine cables, low digital literacy rates, lack ICT equipment such as computers and televisions in LLDCs, poor quality regulation, and lack of enabling environment. In his concluding remarks, he suggested certain recommendations: LLDCs should be encouraged to create an appropriate environment for enabling policies, legal and regulatory frameworks; The international community should provide financial and technical assistance to support accelerated ICT development in LLDCs; Members should work with cellular service providers for reducing the cost of broadband access.
Ms Donna Bethea-Murphy (Senior Vice President, Global Regulatory Policy and Development, Inmarsat) gave a presentation on the UN Broadband Commission Working Group report of September 2017. Bethea-Murphy highlighted cases from the health and education sectors where communities from around the world are connected through small satellite terminals and community wi-fi hotspots backhauled via satellite. She concluded by pointing out that it was fundamental for communities to drive local solutions.
Mr James Howe (Senior Adviser, Sector and Enterprise Competitiveness, International Trade Center) presented key e-commerce success factors for LLDCs and least developed countries (LDCs) in Africa, with Rwanda as a case study. Howe mentioned that some of the key success factors for e-commerce in LDCs and LLDCs in Africa included favourable e-policy and public incentives, a growing mobile money market, a growing stable middle class, a young and tech-savvy generation, a booming fintech sector, and online trust. Despite these developments, he felt that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries faced significant barriers when selling online across borders for reasons ranging from poor ICT infrastructure, limited access to online payment solutions, high logistics costs, and unfavourable or absent government policies.
Mr Ruddy J. Flores Monterrey (Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, UN and other international organisations in Geneva) gave an overview of a study on connectivity challenges and opportunities in Bolivia. Monterrey revealed that a National Broadband plan in Bolivia was formulated in February 2017, for a period of four years, with the following goals: 50% of households connected to the broadband Internet access service; 90% of educational establishments with Internet access service coverage; 100% of target localities connected through the Bolivian trunk network; and 100% of health facilities in target areas and municipal capitals with access to broadband Internet. Further, he mentioned that there was a National Telecommunication Programme for Social Inclusion in place. The plan, he said, sought to increase telecommunication and ICT penetration in localities with more than 50 inhabitants, including the development of projects prioritising mobile access, deployment of technologies with low operating costs, and the deployment of broadband to rural areas. On Bolivia’s ICT Development Index, Monterrey decried the broadband prices, which he stated were higher than those in other South American countries. In order to overcome the challenges, he said, the study recommended harmonising of policy and regulation, opening a fixed-broadband access, backbone sharing, setting-up of telecentres, and improving international interconnection.
Mr Genaro Cruz (Regulatory Specialist, GSMA) spoke of GSMA’s scope to enhance digital inclusion. Cruz reiterated that GSMA was mostly concerned with mobile health, mobile money, mobile for humanitarian innovation, connecting women, digital identity, and M3D utilities. He stated that there were 3.9 billion people unconnected in low and middle income countries. He revealed that the main barriers impeding demand for Internet services included accessibility (including network coverage), affordable handsets and data plans, usability and skills, digital safety and security, and the relevance of content, products, and services. He emphasised the need to use ultra-granular data to target investment in uncovered areas.
By Bonface Witaba