“Future will be digital. But the future of digital must be human-centered,” said the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres in a video message on the occasion of the 17th Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which begins on November 28 in Addis Ababa and will conclude on December 2, aiming at bold solutions for open, free, inclusive and secure digital future for all, in particular for the 2.7 billion people with no internet access. Since these people, one in every three, are living in digital darkness, Guterres has called for more connectivity; and less digital fragmentation. More bridges across digital divides; and fewer barriers. Greater autonomy for ordinary people; less abuse and disinformation. He has also highlighted the Global Digital Compact he had proposed last year expecting an agreement among Governments across the world by the September 2023 Summit of the Future, which seems to be delayed for one year. Over 160 countries are participating in this 5-days IGF, which is hearing over 1,000 speakers in over 300 sessions. It not only puts a spotlight on the least connected region with 60 percent of the population lacking internet access but also on the gender gap in internet usage, digital divides, or ‘digital poverty’.
IGF deliberated on various other issues and emphasised while digital technologies transform lives and livelihoods for the better-increased use of the Internet has paved the way for the proliferation of misinformation and hate speech, the regular occurrence of data breaches, and an increase in cybercrimes. This year’s theme, “Resilient Internet for a Shared Sustainable and Common Future”, calls for collective actions and a shared responsibility to connect all people and safeguard human rights; avoid Internet fragmentation; govern data and protect privacy; enable safety, security, and accountability; and address advanced digital technologies. The International Telecom Union (ITU), the United Nations specialised agency for ICTs, released its Global Connectivity Report 2022 earlier in June this year. In the 30 years since the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector was created in 1992, the number of internet users surged from a few million to almost five billion. This trend has enabled a digital transformation that has been, and is, transforming our societies and our economies. Yet the potential of the Internet for social and economic good remains largely untapped: one-third of humanity (2.9 billion people) remains offline and many users only enjoy basic connectivity, the report emphasised.
According to Facts and Figures 2022, the global median price of mobile-broadband services dropped from 1.9 percent to 1.5 percent of average gross national income (GNI) per capita. Still, for the average consumer in most low-income economies, the cost of fixed or mobile broadband services remains too high. A basic mobile data plan in these countries was found to cost 9 percent of the average income. This represents a slight decrease from 2021, but it remains many times greater than the cost of similar services in higher-income countries. The result is that those who can least afford broadband service – and that could benefit the most from it – are paying the highest amounts in relative terms. Affordability, defined as the availability of broadband access at a price that is less than 2 percent of monthly GNI per capita, was identified as a priority to ensure that everyone can benefit fully from connectivity. Low-income economies feature the most significant generation gap, with 39 percent of young people using the Internet, compared to only 23 percent of the rest of the population.