• Illiteracy, lack of digital skills bane of adoption
About one billion users were newly connected to the various mobile services in the last five years in Nigeria and other part of the globe. According to the State of Broadband 2019 reports released on Monday by the United Nations arm in charge of global communications, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the new figure was added since 2013, which showed a 4.2 per cent average yearly growth.
UN noted that the speed of growth in mobile connections is also slowing, particularly at the bottom of the pyramid. It disclosed that mobile network coverage improved much more slowly in low-income countries, with a mere 22 per cent improvement in 4G coverage in the past five years, compared with a 66 per cent increase in lower-middle-income countries.
According to the global body, in 2018, 4G overtook 2G to become the leading mobile technology across the world, with 3.4 billion connections, accounting for 44 per cent of the total. It noted that 4G will soon become the dominant mobile technology, surpassing half of all global mobile connections in 2019, and expected to peak at 62 per cent of all mobile connections by 2023.
The UN data showed that of the 730 million people expected to subscribe to mobile services for the first time over the next seven years, half will come from Asia Pacific, and just under a quarter from Sub-Saharan Africa.The State of Broadband 2019 took a nuanced look at the nature of broadband connections globally, observing that a false dichotomy between ‘connected’ vs. ‘unconnected’ can hide grave disparities in access and present an inaccurate picture of the realities on the ground in many countries. It noted, for example, that while a connection speed of 256kbps is counted as ‘broadband’ for statistical purposes, users connecting at such speeds cannot enjoy a full online experience comparable to that of users accessing the net over the 100Mbps-or-better connections now considered ‘standard’ in the world’s wealthier nations.
The report noted that individuals who are online may not fit into neat binary statistical categories (‘users’ vs. ‘non-users’). Instead, people are adopting a wide range of ways interacting with, and benefiting from, the Internet. There is also growing recognition of the potential downsides and risks of technology adoption, particularly for more vulnerable populations including women and children, who may become victims of cyber stalking, online aggression and hate speech, or internet-enabled child abuse, exploitation, or bullying.
ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, said: “This year’s State of Broadband report encourages us to think in terms of ‘meaningful universal connectivity, because digital inclusion can only be meaningful and effective if and when Internet users feel empowered to use the technology – and when the technology is affordable, attractive and safe.”
The 2019 edition of the report also reviewed progress on the Commission’s seven key advocacy targets and emphasizes the need to implement policy interventions that ensure broadband access benefits all members of society.
It summarized seven years of policy advocacy as well as the 66 policy recommendations presented in previous editions of the report, which have driven the global dialogue around broadband implementation since the Commission’s inception in 2010.
To accelerate broadband adoption and meaningful universal connectivity, the report stressed the need to go beyond ‘business as usual’ policy prescriptions and projects, and towards more collaborative models based on resource sharing and holistic approaches.
The report also presented updated data measuring progress towards the Commission’s seven advocacy targets (Making broadband universal; making broadband affordable; getting people online; acquiring minimum digital skills and literacy; using digital financial services; Getting businesses online; and achieving gender equality in access to broadband by 2025). At current rates of progress it seems unlikely that all the Commission’s targets will be reached by 2025.
UNESCO’s Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, particularly stressed the vital importance of improving digital literacy. “Today, the main factor preventing people in developing countries from using mobile internet is not affordability but poor literacy and digital skills,” she said. “Gender inequality in digital technology is even more alarming. Women are less likely to have internet access than men, and this gap is widening. The 2019 UNESCO publication ‘I’d Blush If I Could’, produced under the auspices of the EQUALS Global Partnership, illustrated that women are now four times less likely than men to be digitally literate, and represent just six per cent of software developers.”