The new Commission will comprise some 30 top names from around the world, representing not just technology leaders, but leaders from across a wide range of business and social sectors. It is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Mr Carlos Slim Hélu, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso. ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré and UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova, will serve as joint vice chairs.
The Commission has the support of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will receive the Commission’s findings at the UN MDG Summit in New York in September.
Launching the Commission at the opening press conference of the WSIS Forum 2010 event in Geneva today, Dr Touré said that governments now need to view broadband networks as basic national infrastructure. “In the 21st century, affordable, ubiquitous broadband networks will be as critical to social and economic prosperity as networks like transport, water and power,” he said. “Not only does broadband deliver benefits across every sector of society, but it also helps promote social and economic development, and will be key in helping us get the Millennium Development Goals back on track.”
Representing UNESCO, Mr Abdul Waheed Khan, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, underlined the power of broadband to create the ‘knowledge societies’ that will spur human and economic development. “The latest ICTs have created new opportunities for the creation, preservation, dissemination and use of information,” he said. “UNESCO aims to go further, towards the construction of inclusive knowledge societies in which people can transform information into knowledge and understanding that empowers them to improve their livelihoods and contribute to their social and economic development.”
“Universal access to broadband-enabled applications will be vital for achieving this goal, by delivering quality education, sharing of scientific knowledge, enhancing social cohesion, and promoting cultural diversity,” he added.
Dr Touré and Mr Khan called on leaders from government, the private sector and civil society to work with ITU and UNESCO to support the Broadband Commission for Digital Development and to develop and allocate resources for the necessary strategies and policies for implementation.
Dr Touré went on to deliver a personal message from President Kagame, who spoke of the power of broadband to transform economies and human lives: “The transformational impact of broadband on people’s lives and global economies is a given; the remaining challenge is to extend these benefits to the majority of the world’s citizens in order to enable them to unleash their creative potential to fully integrate in the information driven global economy. This will require new frameworks for global cooperation in areas of investment, research and technology. The Broadband Commission for Digital Development will work to realize this potential,” he said.
In a video message to journalists, Mr Slim emphasized the importance of affordable, ubiquitous broadband access: “I am pleased that ITU and UNESCO are forming this Commission for promoting broadband globally. Without a doubt, broadband is the nervous system of today’s new civilization, so broadband access is a top priority for our technological society,” he said. “It is very important that broadband be a high-quality universal service at a low cost. Because of its health, education and knowledge benefits, among others, governments and regulatory agencies should be strongly fostering broadband development. Broadband is not a gap, but a bridge between developed and developing countries, providing access to all of the services of modern society for the well-being of the population in general.”
Under its terms of reference, the Commission will meet in Geneva mid-2010, and deliver its findings to the UN Secretary-General in September, immediately before the UN summit in New York to review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. As well as expert input from the Commissioners, there will be analysis of the challenges and opportunities in deploying broadband in nations at all stages of economic development, with practical recommendations on the possible routes towards the goal of high-speed networks at affordable prices.
The announcement by ITU and UNESCO comes on the back of the establishment earlier this year of ITU’s ‘Build on Broadband’ initiative, which is designed to raise awareness of the many benefits of high-speed networks, not just in communications, but across a whole range of sectors, such as energy conservation, transport management, emergency services, environmental monitoring, healthcare, education and even agriculture, where new technologies are now being used to optimize yields while reducing chemical use.