Connecting Humanity, a new study estimating the investment needed to connect humanity to the internet by 2030, was released by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on 17 September. According to the study, US $428 billion is required to connect the remaining three billion people aged 10 years and above to broadband internet by the end of this decade.
Houlin Zhao, secretary-general of the ITU, says meeting the investment necessary to bring every person online by the end of this decade will require an unprecedented, concerted effort from the public and private sectors. He says Connecting Humanity is the roadmap that will guide decision-makers on the journey towards accessible, affordable, reliable, safe digital technologies and services for all.
“The study examines costs associated with infrastructure needs, enabling policy, regulatory frameworks, basic digital skills and local content at global and regional levels. It also looks at how to mobilize the unprecedented levels of financing needed to extend networks to unserved communities,” says the secretary-general.
Zhao says over the past several months, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed different types of inequalities within and across countries and regions including those related to quality of access, affordability and use of the internet. He says with so many essential services pushed online, there is a real danger those without broadband internet access could be left ever further behind.
“Assessing investment needs to reach affordable universal connectivity is important to any country concerned with their ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Over 12% of the global unconnected population live in remote, rural locations where traditional networks are not easily accessible, most of them in Africa and South Asia and the connectivity gap is exacerbated by the gender digital divide where more men (58%) than women (48%) use the internet across the globe,” says Zhao.
The secretary-general says Connecting Humanity notes that nearly half of the needed radio access network infrastructure investment in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and East Asia/Pacific will be greenfield, which means it lacks constraints imposed by prior work. He says this differs from other regions where bridging the connectivity gap predominantly means upgrading existing coverage and capacity sites.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, says while this is an ambitious aim, it is in no way an unachievable one. He says it is his hope the study will provide clear, coherent evidence-based guidance for countries that will help accelerate efforts to reach unconnected communities so equality of opportunity is finally within reach of all.