ITU raises $100 billion to bridge the digital divide

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WSIS Forum

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency for digital technologies, has announced an investment commitment of USD 4.8 billion to develop global connectivity. The announcement brings the total commitment to bridge the digital divide under the ITU’s Partner2Connect (P2C) Digital Coalition to USD 50.96 billion, more than half of the USD 100 billion targeted by 2026.

The pledges to participate in Partner2Connect, the ITU’s platform for promoting universal connectivity, were announced on the opening day of the High-Level Forum of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)+20 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Among the new commitments announced at the WSIS Forum is a commitment to use artificial intelligence (AI) to expand digital access, adoption, and inclusion.

Генеральна секретарка МСЕ Дорін Богдан-Мартін

“Closing the digital divide requires a team effort, and today we scored a huge win for global connectivity,” said ITU Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin. “I am thrilled to see these amazing new commitments and that we have united P2C and WSIS to break through the halfway point in our goal to help bring the benefits of digital connectivity to everyone, everywhere.”

Commitment to connectivity and digital inclusion

Among the new commitments:

  • AT&T is going to help 25 million people in the most hard-to-reach areas of the United States get and stay connected by 2030 by allocating USD 3 billion. This will bring the total amount AT&T will commit to closing the digital divide from 2021 onwards to US$5 billion. The additional USD 3 billion will be used to overcome the main barriers to connectivity – affordability and adoption – for those who need it most.
  • The Government of Canada is going to attract investments in computing infrastructure to support AI businesses and researchers in Canada through the CAD 2 billion (USD 1.46 billion) AI Computing Access Fund. It also plans to:
    • to invest CAD 400 million (USD 292 million) in the introduction of AI into the Canadian economy;
    • to help small and medium-sized enterprises integrate AI into their business; to protect employees through advanced training;
    • create a new Canadian AI Security Institute to help Canada better understand and protect itself from the risks associated with advanced AI systems.
  • Elle International has three commitments worth $106 million to improve the quality of life for 20 million women and girls in South Africa by providing digital platforms, smart solutions, data and artificial intelligence models that promote connectivity, digital transformation and open science in women’s health.
  • Microsoft has made a new commitment to support projects and prioritize partnerships to rapidly accelerate the inclusion and representation of people with disabilities in and across technology systems, projects and features, including artificial intelligence. This brings to five the total number of P2C commitments from Microsoft.

“Because of the leadership, vision and ambition of P2C’s pledgers, millions of people will be given the opportunity to have more accessible, more affordable digital technologies for socio-economic growth, improved health and everything that makes connectivity meaningful,” said Bogdan-Martin. “It’s extremely exciting to see new pledges begin to leverage the power of artificial intelligence to transform the inclusive digital societies we all aspire to build.”

Building connections between WSIS and P2C communities

The WSIS+20 Forum is taking place from May 27 to 31 to discuss the challenges and record the achievements of the two decades since the establishment of the WSIS multilateral process.

At the WSIS Forum, ministers and government officials from over 160 countries, as well as representatives of the private sector, civil society, academia, the technical community, the UN system and intergovernmental organizations, analyze key trends shaping the world, including artificial intelligence, space for sustainable development and other rapidly evolving topics.

The outcomes of the WSIS+20 High-Level Forum will be used in the UN General Assembly review scheduled for September 2025 to determine how WSIS processes can support the Global Digital Compact, which is expected to be agreed upon at the Future Summit later this year.

The Partner2Connect Digital Coalition is aligned with the WSIS Action Areas, a set of 11 priority areas for UN efforts to connect technology and development that also serve as a guide for policymakers and other stakeholders.

The ITU has called for a total investment of USD 100 billion by 2026 to provide the expertise and resources needed to bring universal, full connectivity and sustainable digital transformation to every corner of the planet.

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