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Less than 50% of the adult population in Nigeria and other emerging economies own a smartphone and women are significantly less likely than men to own a smartphone and use the mobile internet within low and middle income countries, experts have expressed following the submission of a United Nations (UN) working group: the Broadband Commission Working Group on Smartphone Access.

The implication is that “a third of the global population still cannot or do not access the internetor leverage the vast social and economic opportunities in intelligent devices including smart phones, the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development has affirmed.

RELATED: ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission urges faster global action on digital development

Both the ITU [International Telecommunications Union] and UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] are institutions of the UN.

But “smartphones are not just consumer goods: they are accelerators for learning, connection and economic activity. But with the cost of a smartphone exceeding 70% of the average monthly income of people living in low and middle income countries4, enabling access and use to the internet must now become a policy priority for the international community,” said Rabab Fatima, UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS),

“Access to the internet, and smartphones, are critical enablers of jobs, education, healthcare, financial services and much more. We need 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,” said Nick Read, the CEO of Vodafone Group to intensify the urgent need for a united approach to expanding access to millions of people across the world.

The report by the Working Group, ‘Strategies Towards Universal Smartphone Access’, found that limited affordability and availability of smartphones, along with low consumer confidence, in part due to a lack of basic digital skills, are limiting internet adoption.

The Broadband Commission Working Group on Smartphone Access was co-chaired by Read, Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of the ITU, Heidi Schroderus-Fox, and Fatima. The Working Group also included representatives from the governments of Benin and Ghana.

This “report moves the conversation forward by providing detailed case studies on initiatives implemented globally to address the challenges in providing affordable broadband and smartphone access,” said Zhao.

“This report is just the first step. For the next phase, I would like to invite you to join us to implement the recommended initiatives and the five-point action plan to reduce the device gap for the underserved communities globally, as we move towards building a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable world,” Zhao added.

The Working Group also included representatives from: America Móvil; the government of Benin; the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN; the government of Ghana; the GSMA; the International Trade Centre; Intelsat; the International Science Technology and Innovation Centre for South-South Cooperation (ITC); Millicom; Smart Africa; ZTE; and the World Wide Web Foundation.

The lead author of the report was Professor Christopher Yoo, John H. Chestnut Professor of Law, Communication, and Computer & Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania. The report included research from the GSMA, ITU and 19 structured expert interviews, as well as insights from focus groups of entrepreneurs convened by the ITC, and extensive desk research.

The strategies for smartphone adoption build upon the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition which was launched earlier this year by the ITU, in close cooperation with the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology. Partner2Connect is a multi-stakeholder alliance to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation globally, with a focus on (but not limited to) the hardest- to-connect communities.

The coalition has so far had 428 pledges with an estimated financial value of US$26.06billion (€26.04billion). Pioneer pledges include Vodafone, through its main African business Vodacom, which will invest US$190 million (€190 million) over the next five years to increase 4G population coverage to an additional 80 million people in Africa.

The full report is available at: https://www.broadbandcommission.org/download/5913/

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