Global leaders call for immediate action to bridge digital divide and ensure inclusive future | World Economic Forum 2024

The roundtable delved into the wider ramifications of digital access on democracy, sustainability, media literacy, job creation, health, and education.

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During a TIME100 Talks roundtable at the 54th World Economic Forum, leaders from finance, politics, technology, and civil society underscore the pressing need to tackle the digital divide. Despite 95% global mobile broadband coverage, billions in low- and middle-income countries still lack online access due to affordability challenges.

TIME CEO Jessica Sibley and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg emphasize the urgency of addressing accessibility, affordability, and usability issues in the digital space. Government intervention is deemed critical, but slow progress is noted. The roundtable also delves into the broader impact of digital access on democracy, sustainability, media literacy, job creation, health, and education.

The threat of mis- and disinformation during elections adds urgency to the call for digital inclusivity, with media playing a crucial role in building digital trust. The UNDP administrator, Achim Steiner, drew a parallel between digital exclusion and significant threats like climate change, emphasising their shared potential for exacerbating inequality and exclusion.

Why does it matter?

Countries globally recognize the collective priority of addressing the digital divide for economic development; Brazil’s Ministries of Communications and Development, for instance, are partnering to provide broadband internet to over 20 million individuals, including Bolsa Família recipients, with funding from Fust and BNDES. In the US, the recently proposed Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act aims to allocate $7 billion, preventing the potential expiration of funding in April 2024, which could impact 22.5 million households. While the slow progress of the issue has been acknowledged, these initiatives highlight the need to reassess strategies and make a more collective effort to achieve timely solutions.