UN pushes for smartphone access in Nigeria, ITU-member countries


•Policymakers seek common ground on digital migration
•44% of Nigerians have mobile devices

United Nations (UN) has backed move for universal smartphone access plan that would improve global connectivity. UN through its arm in charge of global communications, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), backed a range of proposed measures to close the connectivity gap by boosting smartphone adoption, including flexible financing from operators, lower device duties and improved rural distribution routes.

In a development publicised by Vodafone Group, the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development approved a report compiled by its working group on smartphone access identifying ways to reach a goal of expanding usage to three billion additional people by 2030.

The working group, which is co-chaired by Vodafone CEO, Nick Read, found out that smartphone adoption was being hampered by limited affordability of devices, low availability and issues with consumer confidence, including a lack of basic digital skills.

Already, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) said only about 44 per cent of Nigerians have access to smartphones. The report also disclosed that 58.2 per cent of Nigerians living in urban areas have smartphones, while only 29.5 per cent of those living in rural areas have the device.

A4AI disclosed this in its report titled, ‘Meaningful Connectivity for Rural Communities: Geographic Barriers and Policy Strategies for Digital Inclusion.’

But ITU, in the recommendations made in the UN report, include addressing the affordability of new devices through cuts in tax and import duties, along with investigating the use of device subsidies and promotion of pre-owned devices.

The working group comprises various officials from governments, companies and non-profit groups. Along with Vodafone, it includes representatives from America Movil, Millicom, Intelsat, ZTE and the GSMA.

For the ‘Strategies Towards Universal Smartphone Access’ report, it also consulted a range of external experts including handset manufacturers supplying countries with usage gaps.

Following the document’s publication and subsequent support for the findings, the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development is set to create a taskforce to complete an action plan.

Points to be covered are: initiating mutually beneficial partnerships across the digital value chain; various measures to improve recycling regulation and impose quality standards on used devices; investigation into using subsidies from governments and its Universal Service Fund; and exploring the economic benefits of cutting duties on smartphones.

Read cited a need for “focused partnerships between business, government and civil society to drive smartphone adoption, through the five actions we have identified, to ensure we enable the transformative benefits of internet adoption for billions of people.”

IN a related development, the ITU is pursuing digital cooperation and transformation for the good of all. It made this known at the ITU’s 21st Plenipotentiary Conference, known as “PP-22″, which features elections for the organisation’s top management posts – Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General, and Directors for Radiocommunication, Telecommunication Standardisation, and Telecommunication Development – along with the 12-seat Radio Regulations Board and 48-seat ITU Council.

Digital networks and technologies have empowered billions of people worldwide, facilitating business, education, government services, trade, and social interactions through the toughest phases of COVID-19. Yet Internet uptake has slowed over the past year, leaving 2.7 billion people – or one-third of the world’s population – unconnected.

Romania’s Vice Prime Minister, Sorin Grindeanu, said: “We are in the middle of a digital revolution that enables and provides the means for the development of new industries and converged services, such as smart vehicles, healthcare, smart cities, and homes.

“At this turning point in technological development, we must not forget our essential duty to respect the human being,” he added, stressing the need “to protect the freedom and prosperity of future generations, in whose lives the technologies we see today as emerging will play a determining role.”

ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communications technologies (ICTs). As the conference opened Monday morning in the Romanian capital, ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, said efforts must be expanded to make technology accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere.

“Equitable access to ICTs is not just a moral responsibility, it is essential for global prosperity and sustainability,” said Zhao, who has led the organization for the past eight years. “The decisions made here in Bucharest will determine our direction and priorities in line with the evolving needs of ITU’s diverse and growing global membership, helping shape the future of the information society in both developed and developing countries,” he added.


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