At the fifth of six regional preparatory meetings for the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC), policy makers and experts from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region discussed digital transformation challenges and opportunities.
Despite comparatively advanced cybersecurity, high internet usage, and a relatively narrow gender gap in the sector, CIS countries must do far more to prepare for a future dominated by digital technologies and services, delegates observed.
The preparatory discussions, held virtually on 21 and 22 April, also highlighted infrastructure planning tools available to CIS countries in the field of information and communication technology (ICT).
The upcoming WTDC, planned to be hosted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, aims to draw attention to innovative approaches, encourage new models of collaboration, and promote connectivity and digital solutions in this final Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations.
The Regional Preparatory Meeting (RPM) for CIS gathered delegates from Member States from the CIS Region in the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to maximize coordination ahead of WTDC.
“For the past four years the CIS has continued to notch up impressive growth in digital infrastructure deployment, access, and uptake,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau. “It is worth noting that the CIS region has virtually closed its own gender gap in internet access and that affordability rankings are impressive: ITU figures show that the CIS has the second most affordable digital services in the world.”
Rashid Ismailov, President of OAO Vimpel-Communications, Head of the Russian Federation delegation and RPM CIS Chair said: “Today, it is more critical than ever to discuss telecommunications development trends, assess where and what way we are moving, and understandwhere the technological revolution may lead us.”
Setting regional priorities
WTDC will guide the work of the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) over the next four years.
RPM-CIS participants agreed upon five key ICT priorities to be proposed for the CIS region in 2022-2025 at the upcoming WTDC:
Promoting innovation and partnerships to develop ICT Infrastructure and implement new technologies;
Strengthening cybersecurity and the protection of personal data;
Creating the necessary legal and regulatory conditions to accelerate the region’s digital transformation;
Boosting digital skills and ICT accessibility, especially for persons with disabilities;
Developing smart cities and communities.
“I am highly pleased by the level of support and engagement that our Member States have shown in these preparatory talks and by the outcome of the RPM,” said Natalia Mochu, ITU Regional Director for the CIS Region. “Our membership reconfirmed their commitment and ITU’s role in supporting their digital development.”
The Generation Connect CIS Youth Group (GC-CIS) contributed during the meeting by sharing opinions and proposals on key ICT challenges from the standpoint of young people across the region.
Digital Trends in CIS Region 2021
A new ITU report, Digital Trends in the Commonwealth of Independent States region 2021, shows the region to have the second most affordable prices for ICT services globally, just behind Europe. All CIS countries have cybercrime legislation and cybersecurity regulations in place, putting the region on course to ensure safe use of digital services.
Among the region’s 240 million inhabitants, the percentage of individuals using the Internet increased from 66.1 per cent in 2017 to 72.8 per cent by the end of 2019, the report notes.
In terms of household Internet access, the CIS region is well above the global level, with an average penetration rate of 76.4 per cent, compared to 57.4 per cent globally. However, a large rural/urban divide persists, with only 49.6 per cent of rural households connected as opposed to 72.1 per cent of urban households in 2019.
With a comparatively narrow gender gap, CIS is one of the two regions closest to gender parity: 71.7 per cent of women and 74 per cent of men used the Internet in 2019, compared to 48.4 per cent of women and 58.5 per cent of men globally. In Armenia and Belarus, more women than men used the Internet in 2019.
Internet use among youth aged 15-24 stood at 84.5 per cent in 2019, underscoring the need to retain young people, develop their skills, and improve their quality of life by creating attractive ICT job opportunities.
ITU Infrastructure tools side event
At a side event, ITU presented infrastructure planning tools to spur development and help ICT policy makers and professionals identify connectivity gaps, estimate demand, calculate connection costs, evaluate broadband infrastructure deployment plans, and select connectivity solutions for each country.
Initiatives for Girls and Women in ICT
”Girls and women are key players in addressing the challenges our world faces today, and their meaningful contribution to the digital sector will create powerful, positive social transformation,” noted Ms Bogdan-Martin.
At a special session dedicated to the 10th annual International Girls in ICT Day, marked on 22 April, she underlined the value of mentoring through Network of Women (NoW) initiatives in each region and sector.
RPM-CIS delegates reflected on stereotypes of “male” and “female” professions and their impact on girls’ educational and career choices. The region’s girls and women shared their experience in leading ICT projects, scientific research, learning and educational programmes aimed at digital inclusion, digital skills development, and professional training.
Follow your dreams and visions, be brave and engaged, continue to learn and grow – this is the message from participants sent to all girls and young women interested in pursuing education in STEM fields, and careers in ICT.