Action for the next ten years

The world in 2020 is in a state of unprecedented flux because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the virus rages around the globe infecting millions and resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, connectivity has emerged as one ally in the fight against COVID-19. The broadband ecosystem has proven its scalability and resilience to keep health, education and financial systems, and whole economies, operating. Once again broadband has demonstrated its essential role in fueling the achievement of the SDGs. But COVID-19 also uncovered how the lack of connectivity especially among marginalized communities is widening the gap between rich and poor, and further growing the digital divide. Building back better and faster with broadband will require an emphasis on digital infrastructure and technologies in the pandemic response, recovery, and resiliency-building efforts to prepare against such future shocks, but more importantly to spur achievement of the SDGs.191

It is time to act now and put into action the recommendations presented by the Broadband Commission for medium- and long-term impact to tackle digital inequalities and ensure resilient connectivity, affordable access and safe use of online services for informed and educated societies, including children, people with disabilities, women and the most vulnerable communities, based on the three pillars of the Commission’s Agenda for Action. Figure 29 and Figure 30 highlight concrete actions identified by the Commission in its Agenda for Action, focused on immediate actions, and activities for the medium term.

Figure 29: The Immediate Actions in the Commission’s Agenda for Action192

Figure 30 The Medium-Term Agenda for the Commission’s Agenda for Action193

Ten years since the start of the Broadband Commission, the policy, advocacy, and programmatic implementations of broadband infrastructure, and the applications and services that ride over networks are as important as ever. As the UN Secretary-General has called on all sectors of society to mobilize for a decade of action towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, expanding broadband infrastructure and ensuring universal access to the connectivity ecosystem is critical for the global community to make progress towards the SDGs.

As noted above, some countries have successfully implemented a number of policy reforms echoed by the Broadband Commission which has helped to improve broadband universality in their countries. The opportunity remains for countries to further their efforts to improve the broadband ecosystem in their countries by continuing to adopt more of the recommendations put forth by the Commission, with a focus on implementation. See Table 10, encompassing the policy recommendations presented by the Commission over the past decade to be leveraged and effected in the decade of action.

Table 10: Policy recommendations by the Broadband Commission for the Decade of Action

1. Implement new approaches and frameworks for spectrum allocation & licensing 2. Use of Universal Service Funds to develop broadband 3. Update ICT regulations to promote more investment and market approaches for sustainability 4. Merge regulation and convergent services 5. Lower taxations and duties 6. Make broadband affordable by adopting appropriate policy and regulation 7. Foster locally relevant content creation and local hosting 8. Promote free flow of data 9. Implement e-Government initiatives 10. Monitor and collect reliable ICT data 11. Build human digital capacity and skills to help users, SMEs and public sector agencies make the most of digital opportunities 12. Consider and, if appropriate, apply open access approaches to infrastructure 13. Undertake public consultations on policy & regulation 14. Incentivize and accelerate broadband investment 15. Foster digital innovation by preserving intellectual property (IP) rights 16. Improve IoT & Smart City policy frameworks 17. Incentivize PPP 18. Promote advanced market commitments for rural broadband access 19. Identify champions or leaders in broadband to mobilize political and technology support 20. Improve right-of-way regulations 21. Encourage e-Business and entrepreneurship 22. Support efforts to provide broadband connectivity to refugees and displaced individuals 23. Include in broadband plans efforts on digital inclusion, measures to protect children online, a focus on limiting environmental impacts and addressing climate, and public access initiatives 24. Expand initiatives to map network coverage and infrastructure needs, to develop priority lists for investment 25. Integrate gender in national broadband plans and strategies and undertake action plans to advance gender equality in access to broadband 26. Boost affordability and usability of broadband-enabled products and services, with a focus on addressing barriers faced by those at risk of being left behind

As part of the strategy moving forward, it is necessary to develop common metrics to monitor and evaluate achievements, as well as correct the approach when necessary. This will facilitate that all stakeholders track progress. The Commission will continue its efforts towards achieving the 2025 Advocacy Targets and support the Decade of Action towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and transform people’s lives with broadband by particularly focusing on its core capabilities and strengths. This includes:

  1. Continued high-level advocacy efforts and high-quality research on key topics related to the 2025 Targets and the impact of broadband on accelerating progress towards the SDGs;
  2. Leveraging the momentum and reach of the Broadband Commission to support other related initiatives, such as the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel and Roadmap for Digital Cooperation; and
  3. Continuing collaboration among Commissioners and their organizations to incubate highly effective and impactful partnerships (such as EQUALs, GIGA, and others), and commitments to moving forward the achievements of the 2030 UN SDGs.

The world is in a critical moment in history. Achieving the targets will depend on all of our commitment to our common responsibility to collaborate, partner and develop a more inclusive and sustainable society. It is essential that all stakeholders are involved along the process to leverage the power of broadband and promote a faster and better recovery for all.

Box 9: Working Group and Report on “Freedom of Expression and Addressing Disinformation on the Internet”

The Broadband Commission Working Group on Freedom of Expression and Addressing Disinformation, co-chaired by UNESCO and Dr Hessa Al-Jaber with the multisectoral engagement of Commissioners, has commissioned comprehensive research on online disinformation which will be published as a report later in 2020.

‘The Balancing Act: Countering Digital Disinformation while Respecting Freedom of Expression’ examines global online disinformation, including deadly disinformation around COVID-19, which it calls a ‘disinfodemic’. The report contrasts disinformation with its opposite – information. If information is empowering, then disinformation is disempowering. Online access to verifiable, reliable information makes the right to freedom of expression meaningful. Disinformation works diametrically against this right – while thwarting progress on sustainable development.

In June 2020, more than 130 United Nations member countries and official observers have endorsed a Cross-Regional Statement on “Infodemic” in the Context of COVID-19 (12 June 2020). This calls upon countries to take steps to counter the spread of disinformation, saying these should be based, inter alia, “on freedom of expression, freedom of the press and promotion of highest ethics and standards of the press, the protection of journalists and other media workers, as well as promoting information and media literacy, public trust in science, facts, independent media, state and international institutions.”

The statement adds: “Many countries, including ours, and international institutions, such as the WHO and UNESCO, have worked towards increasing societal resilience against disinformation, which has improved overall preparedness to deal with and better comprehend both the ‘infodemic’ and the COVID-19 pandemic.” The forthcoming research highlights that disinformation cannot be addressed in the absence of freedom of expression, and that actions to combat disinformation should not violate freedom of expression. It also underlines that freedom of access to trustworthy information is a counter to disinformation, combatting vacuums where disinformation may monopolize the communication landscape.

The Broadband Commission report assesses four top-level response categories and 11 sub-categories of disinformation responses mobilized around the world. It examines their character, underlying assumptions and freedom of expression implications. These responses target one or more of the four points of the ‘disinfodemic’ life cycle: namely production, transmission, reception and reproduction. Thus, the research assesses responses that:

● work to cut the supply of production; ● filter disinformation during transmission; ● help inoculate targets from reception; and ● prevent viral re-circulation.

The research further provides a policy framework that can be helpful for stakeholders, particularly in government and the broadband content and development community. It proposes that all response activities build in systematic evaluations: whether such responses are algorithmic, educational, ethical, legal et cetera. These should monitor effectiveness and unintended impacts on the right to freedom of expression and access to information, as well as privacy.

The Broadband Commission research underscores that the disinformation challenge is bigger than any single internet company, any single actor, or any single content provider. No singular approach may work, but a diversity of action by different stakeholders represented by the Broadband Commission membership may come together to see what common ground can be developed. As the internet industry has shown through the counterterrorism initiative and COVID-19 co-operation, so too can Commission sector members work more closely together – and with other stakeholders – around tackling disinformation in a range of spheres.

The report calls for increased transparency and proactive disclosure. This aligns with Sustainable Development Goal 16.10 that calls for public access to information and fundamental freedoms.

Among other measures, the research encourages the broadband community to invest further in critical independent journalism and Media and Information Literacy, especially through educational interventions targeting children, young people, older citizens, and vulnerable groups.

The report was lead co-authored by Prof. Kalina Bontcheva, University of Sheffield, UK, and Dr. Julie Posetti, International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), through key contributions by Denis Teyssou, Agence France Presse, France; Dr. Trisha Meyer, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium; Sam Gregory WITNESS, US; Clara Hanot, EU Disinfo Lab, Belgium; and Dr. Diana Maynard.


191See for instance the UNGIS Dialogue on the Role of Digitalization in the Decade of Action, containing a number of contributions by current UN Broadband Commissioners: https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DTL/STI_and_ICTs/UNGIS-Dialogue.aspx 192Source: Broadband Commission, https://broadbandcommission.org/COVID19/Pages/default.aspx 193Source: Broadband Commission, https://broadbandcommission.org/COVID19/Pages/default.aspx