Op-ed | Universal Broadband: Is Satellite Key to Bridging the Digital Divide?

[Excerpt] Following the widespread effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted the daily lives of billions of people in the past year, the world is in a critical moment in history with regards the development of the broadband ecosystem and accelerated efforts to bridge the digital divide. Access to broadband services is increasingly recognized as a driver of economic growth, as it contributes to a country’s education and political systems. Also, public services such as remote health advice and tele-learning are improved with the availability of communication networks. Due to the benefits associated with broadband services, international organizations are encouraging infrastructure development plans and government promotion of broadband use and accessibility in remote and unserved areas.

In many countries, the extension of direct fixed line service networks to individual households is included in universal access targets, with governments adopting multiple strategies to accomplish such connections. Despite these targets, many people still cannot access broadband services or can only access broadband services outside of home. With the growing importance of internet in our daily lives, data communications at a rate “suitable” for internet access has been added to Universal Service Obligations in a growing number of countries in recent years.

Significant progress has been made globally in recent years in expanding access to and adoption of broadband services. This is highlighted by the strong growth in total individuals using the internet. In the past ten years, the number of internet users doubled to approximately 4 billion people in 2020. Despite the positive trend, digital inequities still exist and have in some cases been accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital inequities and uneven access to broadband services exists not only between countries, but frequently as well within countries. The broadband ecosystem will be central in building the post-COVID world, notably by making sure universal equitable access to broadband services is part of the new normal, which is currently far from the case.

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