Broadband technologies and services have taken on increased relevance within the development community because of their potential to reduce poverty and better enable countries to participate in the global information society. International agreements on development and ICTs provide a context for evaluating the impact and benefits that broadband can have in developing countries.
In September 2000, governments adopted the Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to reducing poverty, as monitored through measurable targets (Figure 2). The targets have a 2015 deadline and are known as the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs).* Several reports have illustrated how ICTs can help to achieve the MDGs.* Broadband can specifically help to achieve the MDGs in numerous ways. For example, one of the barriers to achieving Goal 2 on universal primary education is the lack of primary school teachers. Broadband can facilitate fast track teacher training through distance education and e-learning. In addition, three of the MDGs are related to health; high-speed networks can have an impact through applications such as telemedicine.
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was held in two phases, in 2003 in Geneva and in 2005 in Tunis.* The Declaration of Principles identifies ICTs as an “essential foundation for the information society” noting that “[a] well-developed information and communication network infrastructure and applications, adapted to regional, national and local conditions, easily-accessible and affordable, and making greater use of broadband and other innovative technologies where possible, can accelerate the social and economic progress of countries, and the well-being of all individuals, communities and peoples.”* WSIS adopted ten targets addressing connectivity across different sectors (Figure 3).
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has reviewed progress towards the WSIS targets and emphasized that most should be considered as having a broadband component:
“It is widely recognized that ICTs are increasingly important for economic and social development. Indeed, today the Internet is considered as a general-purpose technology and access to broadband is regarded as a basic infrastructure, in the same way as electricity or roads. … Such developments need to be taken into consideration when reviewing the WSIS targets and their achievement, and appropriate adjustments to the targets need to be made, especially to include broadband Internet.”*
Taken together, the MDGs and WSIS targets provide a global roadmap for developing country policymakers. Broadband can help achieve the MDGs and thus makes the development of high-speed networks an important enabler within the context of overall national development goals, while the WSIS targets enable the monitoring of the real-world impacts of broadband deployment across different sectors.