Statement by Gerardo Peñalver Portal, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China at the first thematic deep dive on “Digital inclusion and connectivity”

H.E. Ms. Anna Karin Eneström, Permanent Representative of Sweden,
H.E. Mr. Claver Gatete, Permanent Representative of Rwanda,
Excellencies and colleagues,

I have the honor to deliver this statement on behalf of the G77 and China.

At the outset, I would like to thank the co-facilitators for convening these thematic deep dives. We particularly welcome today’s theme of “Digital Inclusion and Connectivity”, since this is one of the most important priority areas for members of the Group. We would, however, like to indicate that the chosen deep dive themes should not prejudge the intergovernmental decision regarding the final topics to be included in the Global Digital Compact.

Once again, we underline the importance of ensuring synergies and avoiding duplication across various entities and processes related to global digital cooperation, and of building upon what has already been achieved, as a cross-cutting request in all our discussion on the GDC. To this end, we would like to highlight other important existing platforms in this regard, including International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Internet Governance Forum, and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

The potential of information and communication technology (ICT) must be harnessed to promote the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals, with a view to building a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, with the science at its core.  

ICT should be regarded as tools and not as an end in themselves. Under favourable conditions, these technologies can be a powerful instrument, increasing productivity, innovation, economic growth, improving the quality of life of all and promoting dialogue among people, nations and civilizations.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of digital transformation, and demonstrated how ICT has become an integral part of life. At the same time, the pandemic has laid bare the existing inequalities in the digital sphere and highlighted the risk of the digital divide becoming the new face of the development divide.

The benefits of the information technology revolution are today unevenly distributed between the developed and developing countries and within societies. The lack of internet access is most prevalent in developing countries, where 96 percent of the world's offline population live, recognizing as well that a gender digital divide persists worldwide. This digital divide must be turned into a digital opportunity for all. Universal, equitable and affordable access to ICT infrastructure and services, constitutes one of the challenges of the Information Society. In this regard, connectivity should be assured in conformity with the domestic legislation of each country.

To further this objective, accelerating efforts to provide universal and affordable connectivity and access to the Internet by 2030 is a central enabling agent in building the Information Society and must be a central pillar of the GDC.

This is crucial because 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.

In this area, developing countries face common factors, behind the digital divide include lack of infrastructure, high cost of digital equipment, lack of digital skills and literacy, that must be tackled through scaling up investments in digital infrastructure, technology transfer to developing countries, solidarity and cooperation and capacity building. The Global Digital Compact should also advance and promote international cooperation as well as development and technical assistance to address these issues, and promote new and innovative models of investment, financial and funding to enhance connectivity and to leave no country and no one behind. The Global Digital Compact should also be the catalyst for the development of viable strategies to rapidly reduce the cost of information and communications technologies.

Beyond the problem of access, lack of capacity to engage meaningfully with ICT and ICT related products, including frontier technologies remains a key issue for developing countries. We emphasize that the Global Digital Compact must focus on the pressing need to address the major structural impediments that developing countries face in engaging with and accessing new and emerging technologies.

Digital exclusion cuts across gender, demography, and geography, and it is a major hurdle in harnessing the advantages of the ICT. There is therefore a need to find common ground in terms of how we can foster inclusion, ensuring as well that those living in vulnerable situations are benefited from digital technologies, and that the traditional customs, languages and knowledge of Indigenous Peoples are respected and promoted.

It is important to avoid unnecessary politicization of technical issues to foster an open, fair, inclusive, and non-discriminatory environment for the development of digital technologies in developing countries.

To accomplish all this, there is a need to increase confidence in the use of ICT, create an enabling environment at all levels, improve digital skills and literacy, develop and widen beneficial ICT applications, and foster and respect cultural diversity. The Global Digital Compact should encourage international and regional cooperation on these issues and ensure the ability for all to access, contribute and share information, ideas and knowledge.

The Group also considers that other issues significantly impacting digital divide include technological monopoly, the promulgation and application of unilateral economic, financial or trade measures, the absence of consistent dialogue and institutionalized mechanisms for sharing knowledge, experience, expertise, and technologies and the need to improve regulatory frameworks.

The G77 and China reiterates its commitment to actively engaging in this very important intergovernmental process and looks forward to reaching a concise, action-oriented outcome agreed by consensus through intergovernmental negotiations.

I thank you.