Usage Gap: Seventh Annual GSMA SDG Impact Report Shows Digital Inclusion is Central to SDG Progress
Closing the mobile internet ‘usage gap’ should be a priority for countries seeking to deliver against the ambitious UN Sustainable Development Goals, according to the GSMA’s seventh annual Mobile Industry Impact Report: Sustainable Development Goals.
The report shows that, six years after becoming the first industry to commit to the SDGs, the mobile sector continues to increase its contribution to the achievement of all 17 goals. However, despite mobile operators’ continued commitment to the 2030 agenda, there is still a long way to go.
A combination of global conflict, growing food and energy poverty, economic uncertainty, and the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 are creating significant headwinds, currently threatening SDG progress worldwide. In the face of these challenges, the report highlights the crucial role mobile connectivity and connected technologies can play as enablers, supporting countries as they ‘build forward better’ in pursuit of economic recovery and resilience.
In many countries, particularly low- to middle-income nations, mobile is the principal way to access the internet. Mobile operators’ investments in network infrastructure have helped to shrink the ‘coverage gap’ for mobile broadband networks from 1.4 billion people in 2015 to 400 million people in 2022, contributing strongly to a range of SDG indicators.
However, around 3.2 billion people who are covered by networks are still unable to reap the benefits of this connectivity, due to lack of skills, knowledge, affordability, relevant content and other factors. This ‘usage gap’ is fast emerging as one of the biggest ‘brakes’ on economic and social progress globally.
The report demonstrates how people with access to fast, reliable networks are able to stay connected to friends and family, work remotely, access education and health services, build innovative businesses, improve efficiencies and reduce carbon emissions. Those without access, in contrast, are most vulnerable to economic and social disruption, and risk falling further behind as the world emerges from the pandemic, especially as online services become even more integral to society.
Jose-Maria Alvarez Pallete, CEO of Telefonica and GSMA Chairman said: “In a world where conflict, food insecurity and economic uncertainty are at the top of the global agenda, mobile has never had a more important role to play. The GSMA’s SDG Impact Report demonstrates the transformational impact of communications in tackling these enormous challenges, acting as a catalyst for positive change and delivering meaningful progress.”
GSMA Director General, Mats Granryd, said: “The UN General Assembly in New York this week is a powerful reminder of the importance of collective action in the face of growing global challenges. The SDGs remain a guiding compass for global progress, and the mobile industry is proud to be both an advocate for them, and a crucial enabler of their delivery.
“Mobile connectivity and digital inclusion are essential tools to achieve the ambitious goals laid out in the 2030 Agenda and help the world face into the headwinds of global inequality, poverty and conflict. We urge policymakers to address the barriers that constrain private sector investment in high-quality mobile networks and to join in helping close the ‘usage gap’ that holds back so many from living up to their potential in our increasingly connected world. Together, we can harness the power of connectivity as a catalyst for economic recovery, social progress, and digital inclusion, improving the lives of millions worldwide.”
The mobile industry’s SDG contributions
The mobile industry increased its impact on all 17 SDGs in 2021, with the average year-on-year increase accelerating compared with 2020. The average SDG impact score across the 17 SDGs reached 53, up from 49 in 2020 and 32 in 2015, meaning the mobile industry is achieving 53% of what it could potentially contribute to the SDGs. Other highlights include:
- There are now eleven SDGs where mobile’s contribution is over 50, compared to six in 2020 and none in 2015.
- The mobile industry continues to achieve its highest impact on SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, driven by the reach of mobile networks and take-up of mobile internet services.
- The biggest improvements were recorded in the industry’s contribution to SDG 1: No Poverty, SDG 2: Zero Hunger and SDG 4: Quality Education. This is due to the increasing proportion of people using mobile for life-enhancing activities such as accessing government services, applying and searching for jobs and obtaining educational information for themselves or their children.