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Strengthening ties for affordable connectivity worldwide

This piece was written by A4AI Executive Director Sonia Jorge. It was originally published by The International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us take for granted the ability to maintain a semblance of normality through online exchanges and virtual communities.

Digital technologies – rooted fundamentally in connectivity through the Internet – sustain life, health, education, and economies.

But for nearly half of the world’s population, the basic tools to do this are unavailable. Until they obtain affordable, accessible Internet connections, those estimated 3.7 billion people are at risk of being left farther and farther behind.

Connecting the unconnected

The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), both firmly committed to connecting the unconnected, have stepped up their partnership to close the digital gap in the wake of COVID-19.

As the pandemic has demonstrated, we need to collaborate more strategically, amplify our efforts and accelerate progress on our common goal to connect the billions who remain offline.

As top priorities, we urge governments to bring Internet access to 75 per cent of the global population by 2025 and achieve universal, affordable access by 2030. To make meaningful connectivity a reality, everyone needs access of high enough quality. Our partnership promotes a multi-stakeholder approach to ensure transparent policy and regulatory reforms, taking account of everyone’s Internet needs and socio-economic perspectives.

Research and regional partnerships

A4AI-ITU cooperation takes two main forms: research and engagement.

The two organizations have set out to produce timely research and equip decision makers with evidence-based insights on universal, affordable Internet access. 

Making our 2030 access goal a reality would require investments of USD 428 billion, according to our joint report, Connecting Humanity.

We have also produced the most comprehensive openly available dataset of prices for Internet services across the world, along with analyzing affordable Internet prices at the global and regional levels. A4AI regularly articulates the need for affordable and meaningful Internet access in ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) Study Group discussions. 

A4AI and Web Foundation colleagues contribute actively to the work of the Broadband Commission, led by ITU and UNESCO. Along with the World Bank, we took part in the Digital Infrastructure Moonshot for Africa Working Group, identifying the investments required to connect everyone on the continent by 2030. Currently, we are collaborating on global connectivity and digital inclusion issues as part of the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation

Through meetings like  WSISITU Telecom World, and A4AI webinars, we continue to jointly highlight investment and affordability challenges. Specific challenges arise at the regional level, as can be seen through recent discussions focused on Africa, the AmericasAsia, and Europe

Deepening A4AI’s relationship with the ITU could not be timelier. Only nine years remain until 2030, when we aim to fulfil our universal access goal. 

Now, more than ever, we must double down on our efforts, step up the momentum, and make universal access a reality for all.