Building an Inclusive and Sustainable World with Broadband

The United Nations, along with the help of countries worldwide, is working to eliminate hunger, poverty, and violence. Sustainable development and affordable access to high-speed internet are vital components in making this vision a reality.

In 2015 the UN laid out the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development plan. The UN states that the 2030 Agenda is a “plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace and larger freedom. We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development”. The plan aims to:

  1. End poverty and hunger
  2. Protect the planet by promoting sustainable consumption and by taking urgent action against climate change
  3. Ensure that all humans can be prosperous through economic, social, and technological development progress
  4. Foster a peaceful and inclusive society free from violence
  5. Have all countries, stakeholders, and people work together to achieve the goals laid out in the plan

The plan lays out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to create a peaceful, prosperous world while protecting the environment. This blog will explore the crucial role broadband plays in achieving 9 of the 17 SDGs.

Bridging the Digital Divide with SDGs

As of July 2022, 69% of the world’s population has access to the internet. In North America, 93% of the population can access the internet, but in Africa, that number drops to just 47%. Meanwhile, in Canada, 90% of the population has access to minimum speeds of 50/10 Mbps. However, that number drops to 46% in rural Canada, 24% in Indigenous communities, and no one in Nunavut can access speeds higher than 25mbps.

This disparity is known as the digital divide. The digital divide is “the gap between individuals, households, businesses, and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard to both their opportunities to access information, and communication technologies.”

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic thrust the digital divide into the spotlight. Many Canadians in urban areas began working from home. Schools closed and students took classes online. With doctors wanting to prevent the spread of the virus, clinics began offering telemedicine services. Video calls helped friends, family, and colleagues stay in touch and feel less isolated. Those in urban areas with a reliable, high-speed connection could quickly adapt to these changes. But those in rural, remote, and First Nations/Indigenous communities were left behind. Some of these innovations are here to stay, and those without high-speed internet will continue to miss out on opportunities enjoyed in urban Canada.  

The SDG aims to bridge this digital divide, specifically with goal number 9Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation. One of the targets to achieve this goal is to “significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet.” While SDG #9 is directly related to the construction of broadband infrastructure, internet access can help achieve 9 other goals. Let’s look at how broadband access can ensure Canada does its part to help accomplish some specific SDG goals and prevent those in rural Canada from being left behind.

Achieving SDGs with Community Broadband Networks

There has been little success in bridging the digital divide in Canada. Large telcos have neglected rural Canada for years as it is less profitable than urban centers. Despite this, new business models and technologies are emerging that enable communities to take charge of their future.

Community broadband networks can be community-owned, allowing municipalities to keep profits within the community and ensuring everyone can access the network. Additionally, community broadband networks are typically run on an open-access network model that gives more choice in purchasing services from an ISP.

Let’s look at how broadband internet and, more specifically, community broadband networks can help achieve 9 of the 17 SDGs. 

SDG #3: Good Health and Well-Being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals were overwhelmed with the influx of COVID patients which compromised other healthcare services, including ongoing care for patients with pre-existing conditions. This disproportionately affected rural Canadians and First Nations/Indigenous communities, where accessing healthcare was a challenge even before the pandemic began. While 18% of Canadians reside in rural areas, only 8% of the doctors in Canada serve the area. Digital health and telemedicine are a critical part of the overall solution to providing quality healthcare to all Canadians. But, without access to the internet, rural Canada will continue to face challenges in accessing care.

SDG #4: Quality Education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The COVID-19 pandemic saw many schools shut down for extended periods of time, and students transitioned to distance education. Without internet access, students in rural communities could not participate. But the pandemic only exacerbated an existing problem with access to education in rural Canada. Over the years, rural populations have declined, resulting in school closures. For example, two years before the pandemic began, staffing shortages in rural and First Nations/Indigenous communities were so dire that students in Shamattawa First Nation were only attending school two days a week. Internet access opens new educational opportunities for rural Canada.

SDG #5: Gender Equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Ubiquitous high-speed internet technology enables women who previously were not involved in the workforce to work from home or start a business. However, in addition to the barriers that female entrepreneurs face in urban areas, rural women face additional barriers due to a lack of internet access.

SDG #7: Affordable and Clean Energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Wind Farms and solar farms in rural areas require connectivity for remote monitoring and efficiency of operations. Internet connectivity enables this, and rural broadband can increase the deployment of local green energy solutions.

SDG #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

ROCK Networks has completed economic impact studies for a project investment for rural broadband. It uncovered that for every $100M of Capex Investment, it yielded a $2B increase in 30-year GDP impacts and approximately 800 direct and indirect jobs. The World Bank found that even a 10% increase in broadband increases economic growth by 1.21% in developed economies. Internet access allows rural communities to attract more business and allows more residents to create local businesses. Additionally, expanding broadband infrastructure drives innovation in the market and enables more internet service providers to develop.

SDG #9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

The technology used to build community broadband infrastructure is called fibre to the home (FTTH). FTTH has a life span of 30-50 years, making it the most resilient telecom network technology available. Additionally, fully redundant architecture can increase the availability of the network. Burying portions of FTTH networks further improves the reliability of the network. As part of SGD #9, the UN wants affordable and equitable access for all. Under Canada’s dominant telecom model, just a few providers have a monopoly over the market. Not only is this a contributing factor to the lack of access in rural Canada, but residents also have a minimal choice in how much they pay for internet. New community-owned, open-access models enable more customer choice and more innovative services. Under these new models, ISPs can offer more affordable prices to rural Canadians.

SDG #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Once deployed, FTTH infrastructure enables new innovative rural applications such as intelligent farming, LED lighting systems, smart meters, and automated monitoring of critical infrastructure enabling new applications that are not reliably supported today. The infrastructure of a FTTH network is more sustainable because of the long-lived life expectancy and lower maintenance costs for these networks. SDG #11 also aims to reduce the impact of natural disasters. With portions of the network buried underground, the infrastructure is less likely to be knocked out in a natural disaster. FTTH makes communities more inclusive by giving rural and First Nations/Indigenous communities the same opportunities as urban Canada.

SDG #13: Climate Change: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Studies have found that full FTTH is the most energy-efficient broadband technology available today. High-speed internet access lets people work remotely, which has the follow-on impact of decreased energy usage. With internet access, more people can work and learn from home, reducing commutes and the associated fuel consumption. Remote work can reduce an individual’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80%.

SDG #17 Partnerships for the Goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

Achieving these goals requires the support of governments and rural communities themselves. Various levels of government, First Nations/Indigenous, and rural communities all play a role in developing community broadband networks.

The Canadian government defines access to high-speed internet as a fundamental right. Accordingly, they established the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF) to ensure 100% of Canadians are connected to a minimum of 50/10 internet service by 2030. The Canadian government also funded the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) with $2B for rural broadband rollouts and an additional $1B for First Nations/Indigenous infrastructure, of which broadband is an eligible expense.

By their very nature, community broadband networks require partnerships between the community, the company building the network, and local ISPs. Open-Access Networks enable local ISPs to access technologically advanced networks they could not afford to produce independently. This “shared” infrastructure is critical to creating local jobs while providing more consumer choice.

ROCK Networks is Here to Help

As an ISO 9001 certified company, ROCK Networks has fully aligned with globally recognized standards for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) since inception. Our community broadband and open-access solutions directly contribute to the goals covered here. By doing so, we confirm our commitment to the United Nations SDGs through a rigorous and genuine evaluation of the impact of its projects and commit to establishing a specific committee, including independent members and staff representatives, to ensure the implementation of its purpose. Want to bridge the digital divide and see your community prosper? Contact us to learn more about equitable and sustainable community broadband networks.

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