UN agency wants broadband access for half the world by 2015

Last Updated: Tue, May 25, 2010 14:00 hrs

International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations agency on information and communication technologies (ICT), wants broadband internet access for half the world's population by 2015.

ITU's World Telecommunication/ICT Development Report 2010 was released Tuesday at the on-going World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-10) here.

The report provides a mid-term review of the progress made in creating a global information society by 2015, a commitment that governments made at World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005.

The report recommended that half the world population should have access to broadband by 2015. It also called for building an ICT-literate society globally and developing online content and applications.

'The number of internet users has more than doubled since 2003, when the World Summit on the Information Society first met, and today more than 25 percent of the world's population is using the internet,' said Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, director of ITU's telecommunication development bureau.

'More efforts are needed to increase the number of internet users. While today 75 percent of all households have a TV, only 25 percent have internet access. In the developing countries, home internet penetration is as low as 12 percent,' the director said.

Where home access to the internet is low, it is particularly important for countries to invest in public internet access. Many governments across the world are actively promoting public access and some are turning libraries, museums and post offices into internet cafes.

Noting that many health care institutions and schools in developing countries were deprived of high-speed internet access, the report called upon policy makers to commit resources to connecting educational institutions to ICTs and to adapt the curriculum.

The development of online content and applications in local languages should be promoted, for example, through the digitization of books and documents to create an e-culture, the report said.

The report pointed to the lack of local content, in local languages on the internet. The web is still largely dominated by English, even though only around 15 percent of the world's population understands it.

On the other hand, the proportion of English-speaking internet users is declining, suggesting that non-English speakers are increasingly going online, it said.

The report pointed to the tremendous growth and evolution in the area of mobile cellular technology, which has led to connecting many previously unconnected areas.

'Today, nearly 90 percent of the world's population is covered by a mobile cellular network,' said ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure. He pointed out that even people in rural and remote areas now have the means to access the global information society.

India and China provided basic telephone services to over 90 percent of villages. In many developing countries, fixed telephone lines are largely limited to urban areas. But today, more than half the rural households have a mobile telephone.

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