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Vodafone Group and ITU, the United Nations’ specialized agency for information and communication technologies, launched an initiative to address the global digital divide. In line with the Broadband Commission Global Targets 2025 on affordability and connectivity, the new Working Group’s aim is to provide an additional 3.4 billion people the ability to access and use the internet through a smartphone by 2030.

The Broadband Commission Working Group is co-chaired by Vodafone Group CEO, Nick Read, and ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, while launch partners also include the Alliance for Affordable Internet; GSMA; the government of Ghana; Safaricom; Smart Africa; Vodacom Group; and the World Wide Web Foundation.

Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group, said, “Vodafone is honoured to be part of this monumental global initiative with the UN, to improve the lives of billions of people through smartphone access. As our societies become more digital, everyone should have the ability to find jobs, be able to get public services, financial services, and critical information that are increasingly only available through the internet. This is such a complex challenge that no network operator, device manufacturer, financial services provider, or national government can solve on their own – but working together we can break through the barriers.”

As for Houlin, achieving the Broadband Commission Global Targets requires a multi-stakeholder approach. Through this newly established Working Group, they can help address the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that smart devices are put in the hands of those who need it.

With mobile broadband (4G) networks now covering 82% of the population of low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs), the mobile usage gap is 6x larger than the mobile coverage gap. In line with this, the new Working Group will identify policy, commercial and circular-economy interventions to increase smartphone access. Vodafone Group, in particular, has committed to launch two pilot projects on device affordability as part of this process.

Many different socio-economic complexities and dynamics continue to prevent universal digital access in modern society. Hence, Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group, said, “the pledge by the United Nations, Vodafone Group Plc and the ITU to increase smartphone access for 3.4 billion people around the world is timely and important. As Vodacom works to connect the next 100 million African people through its Africa.Connected campaign, we look forward to supporting Vodafone’s ambition to ensure that no one is excluded from the global digital economy, and may enjoy access to education, jobs, public and financial services."

Accordingly, the Honourable Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Minister for Communications and Digitalisation, Ghana, said, “Addressing the mobile internet usage gap is vital for the long-term economic development of my country and many others across the world and will require new partnerships and focused action from a range of organizations.”

To coincide with the creation of the new Working Group, Vodafone, Vodacom and Safaricom have also published the second ‘Africa.Connected’ report on accelerating 4G for sub-Saharan Africa.

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