Lack of investment and the rise of protectionism threaten the world’s ability to spread internet connectivity.

Lack of investment and the rise of protectionism threaten the world’s ability to spread internet connectivity to almost half of the global population who currently live without it, according to LI Yong, Director-General, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, UNIDO, and Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union, ITU, who addressed the Virtual Edition of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit, #GMIS2020, being held on September 4-5.

‏More than half the world’s population is now online, however connecting the rest of the world’s citizens, estimated at around 3.8 billion people, could prove far tougher and take many more years as they reside in developing or Least Developed Countries, LDCs, where connectivity rates can be below 20 percent. Information and Communications Technology, ICT, is considered a prerequisite for countries to achieve sustainable development and adopt the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution.

‏Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General, ITU said the pandemic had demonstrated that ICT is more important than ever for human society. However, he pointed out that, by some estimates, investment of around $100bn could be required to achieve universal, affordable and good quality internet access just in Africa by 2030.

‏”We would like to see everybody connected affordably by 2030, so this is a real challenge,” Zhao said. “Those that are not connected yet live mainly in poor or remote areas, and you cannot just use the same strategy to bring these people online. This will require investment and the only way is through public-private partnerships. And in the ICT field, we know that the majority of investments come from private sector.”

‏LI Yong, Director-General, UNIDO, agreed that funding for infrastructure was an issue but that this also had to go hand-in-hand with government policies to initiate digitalisation programmes. He added: “The second part is the private sector should be actively encouraged to be involved in digital technology development. This is a very important process and the international community also needs to be united, particularly when we talk about the big gap between the advanced countries and developing countries.”

The article is originally published at wam.