Despite progress, Americas region grapples with urban/rural Internet gap

ITU

The last of six regional preparatory meetings for the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) brought policy makers and experts together to take stock of digital challenges and opportunities in the Americas region.

The region has recorded sustained growth in information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure, access, and use, with an impressive 90 per cent of youth online. Yet it still grapples with a significant urban/rural digital divide.
Across the Americas, only about half of households in rural areas have a home Internet connection, compared to nearly three quarters of those in urban areas, according to the latest study on regional digital trends by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Countries in the Americas face unique challenges in getting people fully and meaningfully connected to digital networks and services. Even so, the region has made great strides in developing adequate Internet regulatory frameworks, meeting participants noted.
The upcoming WTDC, planned to take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, aims to highlight innovative approaches, encourage new models of collaboration, and promote connectivity and digital solutions, particularly in this final Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations.
The Regional Preparatory Meeting (RPM) for Americas, held virtually on 26 and 27 April, gathered over 200 participants, including 130 delegates representing 24 Member States from ITU’s Americas Region, to ensure coordination ahead of the upcoming WTDC.
“In a phase of changes marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, telecommunications and technologies play a leading role, and international cooperation can be decisive in enabling agreements and establishing mechanisms among countries at a global level,” said Diego Eloy Carrillo Purin, Deputy Minister of Communications of Peru. “This prelude to the World Telecommunications Development Conference is important, because it will address the needs and define the regional priorities of the countries of the Americas.”
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, said: “The Americas region has continued to enthusiastically embrace the potential of digital technologies, notching up sustained growth in ICT infrastructure, access and use. By early 2020, over three quarters of the region’s one billion people were using the Internet, and an impressive 90 per cent of the region’s youth was online – well above the global average of 69 per cent. But the Americas is also a region still grappling with a significant rural/urban divide. Only half of rural households had a home Internet connection in 2019, compared with almost three quarters of those in urban areas.”
Bogdan-Martin thanked the Government of Peru for its support in organizing the preparatory meeting, as well as ITU members and partners in the development sector (ITU-D) for their commitment to the “mission to connect the unconnected”.
Setting regional priorities
RPM Americas participants proposed four main regional information and communication technology (ICT) priorities for the years 2022-2025:
    • Deployment of modern, resilient, secure, and sustainable telecommunication/ICT infrastructure;
    • Enhancement and expansion of digital literacy, skills and inclusion programs, especially among vulnerable populations;
    • Effective support for the digital transformation and innovation ecosystems in the Americas through scalable, funded, and sustainable connectivity projects;
    • Development of enabling policy and regulatory environments to connect the unconnected through accessible and affordable telecommunications/ICTs that support the achievement of SDGs and progress towards the digital economy.
“The Regional Preparatory Meeting of the Americas demonstrated the engagement and collaboration of all members of the region,” said Bruno Ramos, ITU Regional Director for the Americas Region. “The priorities they have defined will guide the work of ITU in the next four years to develop the region’s ICT sector and build an inclusive society.”
Elisabeth Diaz, Senior Coordination Officer, UN Development Coordination Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, added: “The opportunities and challenges associated with digitalization and equal access to new technologies are a topic of growing attention for the United Nations at all levels. Support for digital innovation has been prioritized in the socio-economic response plans to COVID-19, and the UN is advocating for policies that support full inclusion and digital equality for women and girls, as well as traditionally marginalized groups.”
Digital Trends in the Americas Region 2021
According to the new Digital trends in the Americas region 2021 report, the region has seen continued growth in ICT infrastructure, access and use over past four years, with 77 per cent of the region’s 1 billion people – and 90 per cent of its youth – now using the Internet.
Internet penetration among women is slightly higher than among men, making this the only region out of six worldwide to achieve rough digital gender parity. However, a striking access gap persists between rural and urban populations.
Total international bandwidth in the Americas region has increased over the last three years, from 52 Terabits per second (Tbit/s) in 2017 to 141 Tbit/s in 2020. International bandwidth availability has remained a major focus of policy making, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The region’s 16 small island developing states (SIDS) should all be connected to at least two submarine cables by next year, according to the report.
See the latest Digital Trends reports on all ITU regions:​​​​

Declaration of Generation Connect Americas Youth Group
Youth participants presented a crowd-sourced document – “Call to Action for ICT Development in the Americas Region Towards 2025” – that highlights the essential role of meaningful connectivity for digital development and the building of an inclusive and sustainable digital society. In addition, digital youth envoys participated in a dialogue with stakeholders from the region, including UN agencies and regional organizations, to share insights on regional challenges and opportunities.
The Generation Connect – Americas Youth Group (GC-AMS) is composed of 15 participants aged 20-24 years old from nine countries in the region. Their wide-ranging interests include capacity development, network and digital infrastructure, digital innovation ecosystem, digital inclusion, and digital services. The Generation Connect initiative aims to ensure meaningful youth engagement and participation in the upcoming WTDC process and Generation Connect Youth Summit.
Network of Women for the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector
The Network of Women (NoW) aims to empower women for larger responsibilities in WTDC delegations, and to tap into the innovative potential that women bring to the table. This includes experienced women inspiring and nurturing upcoming professionals through mentorship.
“The Network of Women for WTDC is a clear, unencumbered pathway for women to shape the strategic development of telecommunications, information and communication technologies on a global scale, to ultimately ensure gender balance in products, services and human resources, in pursuit of a better life for all,” remarked Kim I. Mallalieu, Deputy Chair of the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, and Chair of the regional NoW for the Americas.
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