COVID-19 pandemic, which is currently rampaging the world, has forced global data consumption to increase 283-fold from 0.2 exabytes per month in 2011, to 166 exabytes in 2021. This was disclosed by the Broadband Commission, the advocacy arm of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in its “The State of Broadband: People-Centred Approaches for Universal Broadband,” report.

Already, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) informed that in 2020, data consumption rose by 66.5 per cent on a year-on-year basis as the total volume of data consumed by subscribers increased from 123,648 Terabytes in December 2019 to 205,880.4 Terabytes one year after in Nigeria. The increase in data usage is directly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting normal activities as many functions had to be held virtually including learning, corporate meetings, among others. Buttressing this, ITU observed that since 2000, Internet users have increased 10-fold from around 400 million users to more than four billion users today, with more intensive data leading to different behaviours and eventually life outcomes.

The report observed that while many of these measures were temporary, the impact of COVID-19 on the nature of remote-based engagements (be it economic activity, learning, medical, or entertainment-focused, among other activities) may become much more permanent as more individuals transition more of their activities online and new users join the digital economy.

Historically, ITU noted that the adoption and utilisation of the Internet by new users, as well as existing users who upgrade to higher speed connections, demonstrate a cycle of ever-increasing extensive and intensive data use (more users, and more data per user).

The United Nations body said successful expansion of Internet connectivity over the past three decades led by the private sector and guided by policy and regulatory frameworks that encourage commercial developments need to continue and be accelerated. “However, of the 3.7 billion people, who remain unconnected, 85 per cent are covered by a mobile broadband network. Now more than ever, a focus on individuals and inclusivity embodied in people-centred approaches can help ensure no one is left offline.

Noting that more than a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, amid relentless global demand for broadband services, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development reaffirmed call for digital cooperation, innovation with information and communication technologies (ICTs), and collaborative approaches to secure universal connectivity and access to digital skills.

Meanwhile, at the yearly Fall Meeting of the Broadband Commission held virtually to discuss the report, Co-Chair of the Commission, Rwanda President, Paul Kagame, said digital cooperation needs to go beyond access to broadband, adding: “We also need to close the gap in the adoption and use of affordable devices and services, in accessible content, and in digital literacy.” Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Commission co-Vice Chair, Houlin Zhao, warned that the pandemic had further exacerbated the global digital divide. “I’m concerned that digital technologies and services, which have proven so essential during the crisis, are still out of reach, unaffordable, irrelevant, too complicated to use, or not secure enough for far too many people around the world,” he said. “I was pleased to see that the State of Broadband report calls for additional investments to advance progress towards universal access.”

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