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The Broadband Commission has released the first part of the State of Broadband 2024 report at its virtual Spring Meeting, which brought together government leaders and heads of international organizations alongside representatives of private sector companies, civil society and academia to discuss the power of artificial intelligence (AI) in connecting the 2.6 billion people still disconnected from the internet.

The report examines AI solutions can hasten progress toward broadband advocacy goals. These goals aim to ensure universal internet access and support the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Emerging technology trends such as artificial intelligence are anticipated to add trillions to the global digital economy," noted Rwanda's Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation, Paula Ingabire. “The ability to harness artificial intelligence to revolutionize access to broadband and other services as well as boost productivity for different sectors will require massive investments in the building blocks including power, connectivity and computing resources, particularly in emerging economies."

Leveraging AI for impact

According to “The State of Broadband 2024: Leveraging AI for Universal Connectivity” report, emerging technologies stand to revolutionize the way decisions are taken and services are provided.

The report highlighted how AI is already reshaping the delivery of traditional services for human well-being in sectors such as government, education, healthcare and finance.

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The analysis also identified challenges associated with AI and other emerging technologies. These include energy consumption, misinformation, reinforcement of biases and gender discrimination. Notably, commissioners focused on how to mitigate risks of emerging technologies while maximizing the benefits.

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Advancing Universal and Meaningful Connectivity

An estimated 2.6 billion people around the world remain offline, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN Agency for Digital Technologies.

While overall internet use is increasing, the benefits of access are unevenly distributed, reinforcing persistent digital divides affecting women and people in countries with lower economic development. The elderly and disabled are among other groups being left behind.

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“Broadband is fundamental to ensure that everyone can benefit from digital technologies when so many people are still offline around the world," said ITU Secretary-General, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Co-Vice Chair of the Commission. “AI and other emerging technologies can help efforts to achieve universal meaningful connectivity; and it's our job to make sure this happens in a way that is responsible for people and the planet."

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Targeting Broadband Development

The Broadband Commission reviewed progress on its 2025 Advocacy Targets, comprising seven objectives for action in broadband development and universal connectivity. One target for mobile broadband affordability is close to being achieved, while a target to increase gender equality in access to broadband has been achieved for some countries, although, this is yet to spread globally.

The commission noted that AI and emerging technologies can catalyze and drive progress in broadband development and SDG achievement, however, balancing the AI benefits while managing the challenges associated with the technology is a key task for policy-makers who are “racing to catch up" with global trends.

“Having two-thirds of the world's population now online is a cause for celebration. But with only half as many connected in least-developed countries, and even less among women, the new report shows [that there is] urgent work still to be done," concluded UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, Co-Vice Chair of the Commission. “We must also address the risks faced by those online, through better governance of digital platforms, ethical use of AI and massive upscaling in digital skills, including media and information literacy."

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