The Broadband Commission’s “Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide” is now available online. Our CEO, Helani Galpaya, consulted as an external expert to the commission on this document. The report highlights the need for urgent action to bridge the digital gender divide, and makes broad recommendations to governments/policy-makers, the private sector, NGOs, IGOs and the academia, in the following areas: Collecting and understanding the kind of data that reflects gender disparities in internet and broadband access as well as use Involving women and other relevant communities in the process of developing digital strategies, policies, plans and budget Addressing the digital gender divide in terms of key barriers including problems with accessibility, affordability, safety of use, digital skills and relevance of content Enhancing cooperation between stakeholders to share good practice and lessons Read the full report here. See more of our work on the digital divide here.
Bangladesh took a giant leap in terms of redefining broadband from 128 Kbps to 1 Mbps at the end of last year. Such politically motivated administrative intervention has, however, failed to improve its abysmal broadband profile in the region. The Broadband Commission, in conjunction with ITU and UNESCO, has published the “State of Broadband 2013: Universalizing Broadband” report on September 21, 2013. Various indicators of broadband covering 194 countries until the end of 2012 have been captured in this publication. It shows that Bangladesh ranks 161 with 6.
The ITU’s Secretary General appointed the biggest single barrier to broadband in Latin America, the wily Carlos Slim Helu, as the co-chair of the Broadband Commission. He specializes in tying up efforts to regulate his enterprises. Now that the political elites in Mexico have agreed to curb the hegemony of Telmex, his hands will be full and there may be a vacancy in the Broadband Commission. Slim, the world’s richest man, dominates Mexico’s telecommunications market, controlling 70 percent of the country’s mobile market and 80 percent of its fixed phone lines. Televisa, controlled by tycoon Emilio Azcarraga, has about 60 percent of the broadcast market.
One of the great ironies of the present discourse on Internet/broadband is the appointment of Carlos Slim Helu, the world’s richest man and possibly the single most significant barrier to greater Internet access in Latin America, to serve as the Co-Chair of the ITU-UNESCO Broadband Commission. It is widely recognized that Telmex exerts significant market power to keep prices up, users out, and its profits high. I co-authored a few pieces on Mexico’s early reforms in the 1990s so I have some knowledge of the subject. Now the government has set its sights on telecoms. According to Aurelio Nuño, the president’s chief of staff, within two months the PRI will present a bill to attack the “great problem of concentration” in telephony, internet and television.
UNESCO and ITU have formed the Broadband Commission. Now in an unprecedented intervention the UNESCO’s Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Professor Guy Berger, has warned ITU that the amended ITR will not only “threaten freedom of expression” but may also “incur extensive public criticism that could impact upon the UN more broadly.” In his letter to the Secretary-General of the ITU, Dr Hamdoun Touré, Professor Berger points at Article 5A.4 of the new ITRs which says that member states must “ensure unrestricted public access to international telecommunication services and the unrestricted use of international telecommunications, except in cases where international telecommunication services are used for the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other States, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature.” Professor Berger has voiced UNESCO’s concern about the words “information of a sensitive nature”, arguing that this designates a new criterion for limiting access to services that was not recognized in the older rules.
I know this is late, but it is still relevant. The somewhat ironic* Broadband Commission has done something good. It has declined to define broadband either in terms of advertised (though rarely delivered) download speeds or in terms of specific technologies. The Commission did not explicitly define the term “broadband” in terms of specific minimum transmission speeds because countries differ in their definitions. Recognizing that broadband is sometimes also defined in terms of a specific set of technologies, many members of the Commission found it appropriate to refer to broadband “as a network infrastructure capable of reliably delivering diverse convergent services through high-capacity access over a mix of technologies”.