ITU backs universal smartphone access plan

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has thrown its heavy weight behind a range of proposed measures to close the global internet connectivity gap by boosting smartphone adoption.

The proposals include flexible financing from operators, lower device duties and improved rural distribution routes.

The working group, which is co-chaired by Vodafone CEO Nick Read, found smartphone adoption was being hampered by limited affordability of devices, low availability and issues with consumer confidence including a lack of basic digital skills.

Recommendations made in the report include addressing the affordability of new devices through cuts in tax and import duties, along with investigating the use of device subsidies and promotion of pre-owned devices.

The working group comprises various officials from governments, companies and non-profit groups. Along with Vodafone, it includes representatives from America Movil, Millicom, Intelsat, ZTE and the GSMA.

For the Strategies Towards Universal Smartphone Access report it also consulted a range of external experts including handset manufacturers supplying countries with usage gaps.

Goals

Following the document’s publication and subsequent support for the findings, the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development is set to create a taskforce to complete an action plan.

Points to be covered are: initiating mutually beneficial partnerships across the digital value chain; various measures to improve recycling regulation and impose quality standards on used devices; investigation into using subsidies from governments and its Universal Service Fund; and exploring the economic benefits of cutting duties on smartphones.

Read cited a need for “focused partnerships between business, government and civil society to drive smartphone adoption, through the five actions we have identified, to ensure we enable the transformative benefits of internet adoption for billions of people”.

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