The Broadband Commission is a public-private partnership fostering digital cooperation and developing actionable recommendations for achieving universal connectivity.
Established in 2010 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and Mr Carlos Slim Helú of Mexico, its mission is to boost the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda and expand broadband access to every country. Today, the Commission is composed of more than 50 Commissioners who represent a cross-cutting group of top CEOs and industry leaders; senior policymakers and government representatives; and experts from international agencies, academia, and organisations concerned with development.
The Commission acts as a UN advocacy engine for the implementation of the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, leveraging the strength of its membership and collective expertise to advocate for meaningful, safe, secure, and sustainable broadband communications services that reflect human and children’s rights.
The Commission focuses on closing the digital divide and promoting broadband development in developing countries and underserved communities, ensuring that all countries reap the benefits of digital technologies. Its efforts are detailed in its flagship annual State of Broadband Report and take the form of thematic Working Groups, regular meetings, and advocacy activities at the margins of other flagship events such as the World Economic Forum (Davos), GSMA’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), and the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
In 2018, the Commission set seven objectives in its 2025 Advocacy Targets to guide efforts to ‘connect the other half’ of the world’s population by expanding broadband infrastructure and access to the internet. They reflect ambitious and aspirational goals and function as a policy and programmatic guide for national and international action in broadband development.
The Commission hosts between two and four Working Groups annually to dive deeper into prominent issues affecting broadband access, affordability, and use. Working Groups are proposed, chaired, funded, and led by Commissioners, with the support of external experts. The culmination of the discussion and research of these groups is a consensus-based report, which provides actionable recommendations for achieving the Commission’s targets and thereby elements of the UN 2030 Agenda.
Digital policy issues
The Commission promotes the adoption of best practices and policies that enable the deployment of broadband networks at the national level, especially among developing countries. It engages in advocacy activities aimed at demonstrating that broadband networks are fundamental to modern societies and the achievement of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs). It publishes an annual State of Broadband Report, providing a global overview of the current state of broadband network access and affordability, an update of the Commission’s seven Advocacy Targets, and insights from Commissioners on impactful actions for accelerating progress.
The Commission has launched a number of Working Groups focused on information and communications technology (ICT) connectivity, including the World Bank led Digital Infrastructure Moonshot for Africa and the Working Group on 21st Century Financing Models for Sustainable Broadband Development in 2019. These initiatives aim to provide governments and policymakers with a set of holistic policy recommendations to foster innovative financing and investment strategies to achieve the Commission’s targets for broadband connectivity and adoption. The Working Group on School Connectivity identified a set of core principles to help governments and other interested stakeholders to develop more holistic school connectivity plans.
The ongoing global pandemic has shined a light on the critical role broadband networks and services play in making economies and societies work and thrive. In response to the effects of the pandemic, the Commission adopted the Agenda for Action: For Faster and Better Recovery to accelerate the world’s response. This initiative includes immediate and long-term efforts that governments, global industry, civil society, and international organisations can undertake to support the development and strengthening of digital networks that remain so integral to our economy and society. The three pillars of resilient connectivity, affordable access, and safe use of online services provide a framework for all Commissioners to mitigate the adverse effects of COVID-19 and lay the foundation for a better and faster recovery.
When advocating for the rollout of broadband infrastructure and bridging the digital divide, the Commission underlines the increasing importance of internet access and adoption as an enabler of inclusive sustainable growth and development. It pays particular attention to aspects related to the deployment of infrastructure in developing countries, hybrid education and capacity development, and online safety (particularly for children and youth), in addition to the digital gender divide and the empowerment of women in the digital space.
Recent broadband reports covering these topics include the Commission’s Working Group on Digital Learning, Vulnerable Countries, and the Gender Digital Divide. These Working Groups aim to advance progress on the Commission’s 2025 Advocacy Targets on Broadband Policy, Connectivity, Digital Skills Development, and Gender Equality.
The Commission advocates for actions to be taken by all relevant stakeholders with the aim of closing the digital divide, a crucial step towards the achievement of the SDGs. The Commission’s annual State of Broadband Report looks at the progress made in implementing broadband networks in various countries around the world, which it regards as an essential element in addressing the digital divide.
The Commission also addresses the impact of digital technologies on specific issues covered by the SDGs. One example is the recent Working Group on VirtualHealth & Care, whose final report outlines practical recommendations for the future of digital health services presented in a framework of six key policy pillars. In 2021, the Working Group on Smartphone Access was launched to examine the smartphone access gap and provide strategies for achieving universal smartphone ownership so that all communities may benefit from access to digital services.
Also active in environmental and climate change issues, the Commission’s activities (ranging from publications and events to advocacy actions) cover the link between climate change and ICTs.
Interdisciplinary approaches: Digital cooperate
The work of the Commission contributes to the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which lays out how all stakeholders can play a role in advancing a safer and more equitable digital world. Through its various Working Group initiatives and the advocacy of its Commissioners, the Broadband Commission is a prime example of SDG 17 (Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development) in action. The Commission makes policy recommendations and advocates implicitly for global digital cooperation, providing considerations for all sectors to work in tandem to reach the goal of universal connectivity.
Digital tools and initiatives
The Broadband Commission’s website, social media, and various online channels feature landmark reports, which are available for free:
- Broadband Commission 2020 Universal Connectivity
- The Future of Virtual Health and Care
- 21st Century Financing Models for Bridging Connectivity Gaps
- Connecting Learning Spaces: Possibilities for Hybrid Learning
- Importance of ICT and Global Cooperation for Future Epidemic Management
- Reimagining Global Health through Artificial Intelligence: The Roadmap to AI Maturity
- Balancing Act: Countering Digital Disinformation While Respecting Freedom of Expression
- The Digital Transformation of Education: Connecting Schools, Empowering Learners
- Connecting Africa Through Broadband: A Strategy for Doubling Connectivity by 2021 and Reaching Universal Access by 2030
- Epidemic Preparedness: Preventing the Spread of Epidemics Using ICTs
- Digital Health: A Call for Government Leadership and Cooperation between ICT and Health
- The Promise of Digital Health: Addressing Non-communicable Diseases to Accelerate Universal Health Coverage in LMICs
- Child Online Safety: Minimising the Risk of Violence, Abuse and Exploitation Online
- Digital Gender Divide: Bridging the Gender Gap in Internet and Broadband Access and Use
- Education: Digital Skills for Life and Work
- Digital Entrepreneurship
- Broadband for the Most Vulnerable Countries
- Digitalization Scorecard: Which Policies and Regulations can Help Advance Digitalization
- Linking ICT with Climate Action for a Low Carbon Economy
- Creating a Favourable Environment for Attracting
- Finance and Investment in Broadband Infrastructure
The Broadband Commission has also been instrumental in launching the following global initiatives:
- EQUALS: The ITU/ITC/GSMA/UN Women Global
- Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age
- GIGA: The ITU/UNICEF Global Initiative to Connect
- Every School to the Internet by 2030The Child Online Safety Universal Declaration
Social media channels
Flickr @Broadband Commission
YouTube @Broadband Commission