We need to build smart villages and cities, not just smart cities
- The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of connectivity, but has also highlighted a growing digital divide – 3.6 billion people lack even the most basic internet access.
- Governments increasingly recognize the need to improve Internet access for all citizens, especially those in rural communities.
- One way to successfully build such connectivity is through public-private partnerships.
Connectivity is not a luxury, it is a fundamental right. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this clearer than ever. Connectivity has made it possible for people to learn, shop, bank, socialize, access healthcare and, in many cases, work from home. However, for about 3.6 billion people worldwide, this was all impossible because they did not have even the most basic internet access.
How much of the $ 15 trillion that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates the world could have lost in production to COVID-19 could have been saved if everyone had access to the Internet? What about the physical and mental health costs of disconnecting in an increasingly digital world? We must act now to bring unconnected communities online. Not just in smart cities, but in smart villages and smart townships.
Connecting rural areas around the world
The good news is that there are creative and ambitious solutions to help connect communities around the world. In El Salvador, for example, a long-standing digital divide means that only about half of the population uses the Internet, while about two-thirds of public schools are offline. Fortunately, the country has recognized the toll this has taken on productivity, equality and education, and has made this issue a top priority for the government.
We must act now to bring unconnected communities online. Not just in smart cities, but in smart villages and smart townships.
—Pekka Lundmark, Nokia
The public and private sectors are working together to bring large swathes of El Salvador’s public services online, with the goal of having broadband in every school by 2030, as well as expanding it to other public services such as as medical clinics, hospitals and police stations. This will not only dramatically improve internet access, but also lay the foundation for a modern digital economy.
Likewise, around 150 Argentinian villages are brought online this year after telecommunications regulator Enacom allocated 450 MHz spectrum for broadband coverage in rural areas. This is part of a government initiative to reduce a social and economic digital divide, which has widened dramatically during the pandemic. In addition to bringing citizens online, mobile broadband will also enable smart farming solutions, a key driver of economic growth. development in rural areas.
In other parts of the world, investments in fixed networks improve connectivity. In Nepal, for example, 1,500 kilometers of optical networks are being upgraded to provide high speed broadband access. This will allow the local service provider to meet the growing demand for bandwidth and provide users with better quality of service.
In addition to the fact that connectivity is a fundamental right, widespread connectivity also has a huge multiplier effect.
—Pekka Lundmark, Nokia
In addition to the fact that connectivity is a fundamental right, widespread connectivity also has a huge multiplier effect. This could encourage digital entrepreneurs to develop marketable and socially useful applications and services. More generally, it could stimulate the economic and social progress of a country.
It creates great hopes, and that’s understandable. Numerous studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between the availability of broadband and employment and GDP growth. This aligns with what we see all the time at Nokia: Nations, cities and even individual communities that invest in connectivity are seeing an increase in jobs, skills, income, entrepreneurship and quality. of life.
Low-income countries that manage to increase mobile broadband penetration by 10% tend to experience an increase of around 2% in their GDP. The cumulative impact is even more striking: the World Bank estimates that achieving 75% Internet access in all developing countries would create more than 140 million jobs worldwide.
Every project to connect an underserved community is different, but we believe that the best projects, like the example of El Salvador, benefit from public-private partnerships. The public sector can allow projects using fiscal policies to encourage investment in broadband. This cuts deployment costs and sets an example through the digital delivery of public services.
COVID-19 has exposed digital inequalities around the world and exacerbated the digital divide. Almost half of the world is still not online.
With more basic online services and the pandemic highlighting affordability challenges in richer countries, these deep digital gaps are exacerbating inequalities and preventing the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
During the Davos Agenda, the World Economic Forum launched the EDISON Alliance, the first cross-sectoral alliance to accelerate digital inclusion and connect critical sectors of the economy.
The EDISON Alliance will prioritize digital inclusion as a platform of platforms for partners with a common goal for the achievement of the SDGs. Its vision is to ensure that everyone can participate at a lower cost in the digital economy.
Companies are invited to join the EDISON Alliance – find out how in our Impact Story.
Governments need to define exactly what they want to accomplish and align themselves with other actors who can help achieve it – both private companies and groups like the Broadband Commission or the EDISON Alliance of the World Economic Forum. It is only when everyone plays their part and by all acting together that we can build fairer and more inclusive economies and societies.