Introduction to the Broadband Commission

A decade of change and its role as a global multi-stakeholder partnership

1.1 The Broadband Commission: A decade of action


Towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century, a growing public discourse recognized the transformational impact of telecommunications, and particularly of mobile phones and the internet. In 2005, The Economist magazine’s cover story focused on the “The Real Digital Divide” with a photo of a young child holding a basic feature phone. By 2009, the cover story focused on “The Power of Mobile Money” , as the proliferation of mobile telephony spread across Africa, Asia, and other parts of the developing world.

Figure 2: Global information and communications technology (ICT) adoption in 2010 (per 100 inhabitants)17

While mobile-cellular subscriptions in 2010 reached penetration levels of 77% globally, and 68.5% in developing countries, by comparison internet usage was 29% worldwide (2 billion users). But major disparities remained, as internet usage in least developed countries (LDCs) in 2010 was only 5.5% (a total of 46 million users). Broadband penetration in LDCs in 2010 was even lower, with 0.4% penetration of mobile broadband (3 million subscriptions), and 0.1% in fixed broadband (1 million subscriptions). As such, the former Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) called for the world to invest in infrastructure deployment to replicate the “mobile miracle” for broadband, urging countries “to do for the Internet and broadband what we have now so successfully achieved with mobile.”21

The Commission defined a vision for a globally connected society with a focus to boost the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda and expand broadband access in every country in order to accelerate progress towards national and international development targets. The Commission’s first report and policy document, “A 2010 Leadership Imperative: The Future Built on Broadband,” called for a common vision of broadband inclusion for all, stressing the catalytic power of information and communications technologies (ICTs), and broadband in particular as a critical enabler for effective and sustainable solutions to the greatest global challenges in poverty, health, education, gender equality, climate change, and population shifts.

The work program of the Commission centers around high-level advocacy to promote broadband in developing countries and underserved communities. One of the central roles of the Commission is to advocate for higher priority to be given to the development of broadband infrastructure and services in order to ensure that the benefits of this technology is realized in all countries. Particularly by encouraging governments and industry to work together to devise strategies for driving the roll-out of these networks much more proactively.

From 2010 through 2015, the Commission continued meeting bi-annually, launching working groups to explore key topics (for example, in September 2010, eight working groups were initiated focusing on science, youth, health, environmental sustainability, public-private partnerships, education, multilingualism, and science) and produced a range of policy documents, country analyses, and launched the annual State of Broadband in 2012. That year, the Commission established a set of ambitious Broadband Targets for 2015, aligning its advocacy framework with the MDGs. When the first edition of the “State of Broadband” report was released , many countries had yet to implement any sort of formal national plan to promote broadband. In some regions, less than half of countries had developed broadband plans or comprehensive broadband policies such as the CIS region (only 43% of countries in 2010 had a policy) and the Arab States (where 39% of countries had a policy). 25

Figure 3 Highlights of advocacy efforts in the first five years of the Commission

Note: 14 thematic working groups were established over this time period and published topical research report; See Box 1

The first four advocacy targets identified by the Commission included:

Advocacy Target 1: Making broadband policy universal – by 2015, all countries should have a national broadband plan or strategy or include broadband in Universal Access/Service (UAS) Definitions.

Advocacy Target 2: Making broadband affordable – by 2015, entry-level broadband services should be made affordable in developing countries through adequate regulation and market forces (amounting to less than 5% of average monthly income).

Advocacy Target 3: Connecting homes to broadband – by 2015, 40% of households in developing countries should have Internet access (either fixed or mobile).

Advocacy Target 4: Getting people online - by 2015, Internet user penetration should reach 60% worldwide, 50% in developing countries and 15% in LDCs.

That first State of Broadband report highlighted a phenomenon that has since continued: by the end of 2011 there were almost twice as many mobile broadband subscriptions as fixed broadband connections, and that ratio only continued to grow throughout the rest of the decade. Figure 3 highlights a number of the advocacy effort milestones during this initial period.

1.3 The first decade of impact for the Broadband Commission Goals


As the Commission marks its tenth anniversary in 2020, its sustained advocacy efforts over the past decade have borne fruit across the global community as mindsets have changed in recognizing that ICTs and broadband are critical “prerequisites” for economic and social development, rather than just mere potential “enablers”. In 2019, several high-level organizations and groups launched reports advocating for greater emphasis on policy issues that focus on ensuring that the digital economy works in favor of everyone, with recommendations that mirror the work and advocacy efforts of the Commission. Most notably, the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation report on “The Age of Digital Interdependence” and the European Union-African Union Digital Economy Task Force’s report on “Accelerating the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals” were both released in June 2019. Further, the “Road Map for Digital Cooperation” report of the UN Secretary-General released in May 2020 recognizes role of the Commission in advocacy of global broadband targets.

To date, the Commission's outputs have included an annual State of Broadband report published since 2010, twenty-two working groups on thematic areas from health to education, and two global convenings each year. The Commission also leverages its high-profile Commissioners to spread the message of Broadband for Sustainable Development at key events, conferences and functions. Since 2010, Commission membership has included 147 high-level Commissioners, comprising 58 current Commissioners and 90 former members of the Commission. See Annex 1 for the list of former Commissioners.

The Broadband Commission has issued a number of calls to action and high-level manifestos on behalf of the group's members, directed at Heads of State, key decision makers at the G20, the United Nations and delegates at ITU's 2014 Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-14).

The Commission has also been instrumental in launching global initiatives:

1) “EQUALS”, the ITU/ITC/GSMA/ UN Women Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age ;

2) “GIGA” the ITU/UNICEF Global Initiative to Connect Every School to Internet by 2030 ; and

3) Child Online Safety Universal Declaration

The Commission’s advocacy, research and engagement efforts are conducted in line with the Commissioners’ own efforts to effect global progress towards the Commission’s overarching advocacy targets. As an example, since 2010, much work has been done by the Commission and its Workings Groups on various fronts to push towards Advocacy Target 2, Making Broadband Affordable. These include a range of Working Groups dedicated to providing a strong message about broadband infrastructure financing and different investment models / approaches in additional to pure private or public investments (such as public-private partnerships, the strategic use of universal service funds, USFs, and others). The topic of investment and financing of broadband infrastructure has been a regular Working Group focus and featured in several recommendations of the Commission. The first report of this kind was in 2013 with the Working Group report on “Creating a Favorable Environment for Attracting Finance and Investment in Broadband Infrastructure” . The topic was addressed again in the recently completed Working Group report on the Digital Infrastructure Moonshot for Africa , that addressed investment needs to achieve universal access in Africa by 2030, and again the topic will be analyzed in the upcoming Working Group on 21st Century Financing and Funding Models (See Box 6).

Since 2010, the Commission has been on the leading edge of advocating for policies that can lead to universal and affordable broadband internet access. The State of Broadband reports from 2012 to 2019 have presented 76 recommendations for stakeholders to take action. The range of unique messaging includes:

1. Implement new approaches and frameworks for spectrum allocation & licensing 2. Use of Universal Service Funds to develop broadband 3. Update ICT regulations and market approaches for sustainability 4. Converge 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 flows 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. 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 Internet of Things (IoT) & Smart City policy frameworks 17. Incentivize public-private partnerships (PPPs) 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 investment38

See Annex 2 for Full List of Recommendations since 2012 in the State of Broadband Reports.

As the Commission reaches its 10th anniversary amid global internet adoption levels passing the 50% threshold, the work program of the Commission enters a next phase to ensure no one is left behind. Global efforts such as the UN Secretary General’s call for support in the SDG Decade of Action and the work of the High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation’s roadmap can all leverage the momentum of the Commission’s first decade of advocacy.

Box 1 Working Groups of the Broadband Commission from 2010 to 2020

Since 2011, the Broadband Commission has supported and encouraged Commissioners to self-organize around additional and related topics to the Commission’s focus on sustainable digital development. As such, twenty-two Working Groups have emerged and developed research and policy position papers, presented on key issues and have led to additional programmatic efforts.