Connectivity Gap Between Urban, Rural Communities Worries ITU

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By Emma Okonji

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an agency of the United Nations (UN), responsible for global telecoms regulation, is worried that the internet connectivity gap between urban and rural communities across the globe, has continued to widen.

ITU is of the view that if the trend is not addressed, it could jeopardise the full attainment of the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the global digital transformation agenda.

In Nigeria, the telecoms industry regulatory body, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had since noticed such trend in Nigeria, and had therefore set up the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), to fund telecoms operators who have the capacity and are willing to roll out services in underserved and unserved communities across the country.

This was in addition to the licensing of Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) in seven locations across the six geopolitical regions of the country, by the NCC, while mandating the InfraCos to rollout broadband internet services across the country, including rural communities in order to bridge the digital divide and address the connectivity gap in the country.

According to a new report tagged: ‘Measuring Digital Development: Facts and Figures 2020, “connectivity gaps in rural areas are particularly pronounced in least developed countries (LDCs), where 17 per cent of the rural population live in areas with no mobile coverage at all, and 19 per cent of the rural population is covered by only a 2G network. But virtually, all urban areas in the world are covered by a mobile-broadband network.”

The report further cited 2019 data report, which stated that globally about 72 per cent of households in urban areas had access to the internet at home, almost twice as much as in rural areas that is 38 per cent.

Worried about the development, ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, said: “How much longer can we tolerate the significant gap in household connectivity between urban and rural areas. In the age of COVID-19, where so many are working and studying from home, this edition of Measuring Digital Development: Facts and Figures, sends the clear message that accelerating infrastructure rollout is one of the most urgent and defining issues of our time.”

Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, said this edition of ‘Measuring Digital Development: Facts and Figures’ was released at a challenging time as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on lives, societies and economies around the world.

According to Bogdan-Martin, “For the first time, our research contains estimates of the connectivity status of small island developing states and landlocked developing countries, in addition to least developed countries. This is a very important milestone in our efforts to achieve sustainable development for all.”

The research reveals that about a quarter of the population in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Landlocked Developed Countries (LLDCs), and about 15 per cent of the population in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), do not have access to a mobile-broadband network, thus falling short of the Sustainable Development Goals, which seem to significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries by 2020.

The research report further stated that: “Internet use is consistently more widespread among young people, irrespective of region or level of development. Whereas just over half of the total global population is using the internet, the proportion of internet use increases to almost 70 per cent among young people aged 15-24 years.”

In LDCs, 38 per cent of youth are using the Internet, whereas the overall share of people using it, including youth, stands at 19 per cent, but I n developed countries, virtually all young persons are using the internet, the report added.

According to the report, in addition to infrastructure rollout, the digital gender divide, lack of digital skills and affordability, continued to be major barriers to meaningful participation in a digital society, especially in the developing world where mobile telephony and internet access remain too expensive for many