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Study shows that the “Internet is unavailable” to visually impaired users

A study published by Deque Systems - a digital accessibility company and conducted by Nucleus Research shows that 70% of Internet websites in certain industries such as e-commerce, e-government, news and information, etc. are unavailable to visually impaired users. According to the report, 7 out of 10 blind persons cannot access e-government services whereas 8 out of 10 users experience difficulty accessing news websites.The research therefore highlights the existing digital divide despite measures taken to make the Internet more accessible to visually-impaired users, and emphasises a missed market opportunity for the concerned websites given that they lose roughly USD 6.9 billion to accessible e-commerce competitors annually. 

The report found that well-known e-commerce actors including Amazon, Target and Best Buy lead the way in addressing accessibility issues in the e-commerce space. 

FCC proposes establishing $20.4 billion rural digital opportunity fund.

The U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has in a press release proposed a $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund aimed at expanding broadband access to unserved or underserved rural areas across the U.S. The proposal contained in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking document, and open for comments, is considered by the FCC as its single biggest step since its establishment to bridge the rural digital divide gap that exists in the U.S. The FCC notes in its proposal that if it is approved, at least 4 million rural homes and small businesses that currently lack modern broadband service will have access to ultra high speed connectivity of at least 25Mbps/3 Mbps, with incentives for faster speeds.

BRICS leaders reafirm their support for the the Sustainable Development Goals

Leaders from the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – met from 25-27 July for the group’s tenth annual summit. The theme of the summit was “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution.” In the Johannesburg Declaration, issued at the end of the meeting, BRICS leaders affirmed their support for the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, noting the potential for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a means of delivering inclusive, sustainable development. They also called for developed countries to meet their foreign aid commitments and provide further support to developing country partners.

UN affirms that digital divide is an obstacle to e-government deployment

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs launched a ranking of countries on e-government development. According to the publication, despite recent progress and major investments in e-government, the world’s poorest countries are lagging behind due to a persisting the digital divide. Fourteen countries out of sixteen with low scores are African and belong to the least developed countries group. This indicates that the digital divide could deepen between people who have access to Internet and online services and those who do not, jeopardizing the vision of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development for ‘leaving no one behind’. Denmark, Australia, and Republic of Korea came out on top of a group of 40 countries, scoring very high on the E-Government Development Index—EGDI, which measures countries’ use of information and communications technologies to deliver public services. Globally, almost two thirds of 193 United Nations Members States now demonstrate a high-level of e-government development with EGDI values above in the range of 0.5 and 1. The share of countries with low e-government levels, in the range of 0 to 0.25, has dropped by a significant 50 percent, from 32 countries in 2016 to 16 countries in 2018.

UN acknowledges that the implementation of SGDs is not advancing fast enough

Officials meeting for the annual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) at UN headquarters in New York called for an escalation in progress in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their respective targets, while conducting reviews of specific SDGs and discussing Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) from 46 countries. In a ministerial declaration the HLPF acknowledged that while progress had been made with some goals and targets, it is not advancing fast enough to achieve the SDGs. It further noted that progress has been uneven across countries and regions, emphasising the need to “urgently accelerate progress toward all targets, in particular those with a timeframe of 2020.” The HLPF is the central body that provides guidance and recommendations on sustainable development to UN member states, as well as overseeing the voluntary, state-led national review process. At the close of the HLPF, UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a speech, welcoming the progress achieved so far, but acknowledging that efforts are “lagging or even backtracking in other areas.” He noted that the number of undernourished people has increased, rather than abated. He also cited persistent gender inequality and a lack of investment in sustainable infrastructure as areas of concern. The Secretary-General reaffirmed his plans to convene a Climate Summit in September 2019 in order to galvanise greater climate ambition. He also confirmed plans to convene a High-level Meeting on Financing the 2030 Agenda in September 2018, along with calling for better use of technological advances and for strengthening institutions.

EU and Japan conclude a trade agreement

The EU and Japan signed a trade deal in Tokyo. The accord, known as the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), has been under formal negotiation since 2013. Leaders stressed that the agreement will strengthen the alliance between countries who share a set of core values, including a commitment to using trade as a tool to support sustainable development objectives. The EU and Japanese officials also issued a joint statement, welcoming the signing of the EPA as well as a separate accord known as a Strategic Partnership Agreement, which aims to facilitate more in-depth work on a host of shared policy priorities. The EPA covers a broad range of topics, such as slashing duties on nearly all tariff lines, tackling non-tariff measures, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, improving market access in several key services sectors, such as telecommunications and financial services and public procurement. The agreement shall enter into force in 2019.

Emmanuel Macron meets tech companies at the Elysée palace

French president Emmanuel Macron has held a meeting with about 60 key figures of the tech industry, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. During the meeting, he reportedly warned the industry that they cannot just be ‘free riding’ without giving back to society and helping to improve ‘social situations, inequalities, [and] climate change’. The issue of taxation was one of the key discussion topics. In addition, with the meeting, Macron hoped to boost investment and jobs in France, especially in the area of artificial intelligence. Macron also discussed issues as data protection, hate speech, and fake news with the technology companies.

Digital technologies can expand financial inclusion, World Bank report argues

The World Bank has released The Global Findex Database 2017 report, providing data on how individuals around the world save, borrow, make payments, and arrange risks. In its third edition, the report also includes data on the use of financial technology (including the Internet and mobile phones) to conduct financial transactions. The main finding of the report is that financial inclusion – an enabler of the 2030 sustainable development goals – is on the rise at a global level, but that measures are still needed to expand access to financial services, especially in developing countries. To this aim, the report notes that digital technologies can drive sustainable financial inclusion if the necessary infrastructure is in place, and an enabling environment is created in areas such as digitising payments of wages and government benefits, putting in place strong consumer protection rules, and introducing digital technology-based identification cards. According to the World Bank, the data in the report is used by UN member states to track progress toward the sustainable development goals.

2018 UNCTAD e-commerce week: development dimension of digital platforms

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) organised the e-Commerce Week 2018, from 16 to 20 April. The event brought together stakeholders to discuss development opportunities and challenges associated with the evolving digital economy. This year, the overarching theme was the development dimension of digital platforms. The key role that these platforms play in facilitating international trade was discussed, as well as their potentially disruptive influence on the economy and the job market. The second meeting of the Group of Intergovernmental Experts on E-commerce also took place during the e-commerce week, under the theme ‘Fostering Development Gains from Domestic and Cross-border E-commerce in Developing Countries’. The discussions were guided by some questions proposed for reflection, and member states and observers were invited to present written contributions beforehand. Their inputs have been made available online. The GIP Digital Watch Observatory and DiploFoundation provided just-in-time reporting from most sessions at the UNCTAD e-commerce week and from the second meeting of the group of intergovernmental experts on e-commerce.

Microsoft announces considerable investment in IoT

A blog post published by Julia While, Azure Corporate Vice-president at Microsoft, revealed Microsoft's plan to invest USD$ 5 billion in the Internet of things (IoT) in the next five years. The funds will be allocated to research and innovation in IoT, so that the products and services offered by the company can allow the creation of 'trusted, connected solutions that improve business and customer experiences, as well as the daily lives of people all over the world'. Microsoft intends to pay particular attention to areas such as securing IoT, creating development tools and intelligent services for IoT, and supporting the growth of the overall IoT environment.​

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