News | 27 Sep 2022

Smartphones for all: UN agrees action plan

The plan tackles smartphone affordability and availability, as well as digital skills, so that as many people as possible in developing countries can access the devices.

A United Nations working group, the Broadband Commission Working Group on Smartphone Access, has unveiled a plan at the UN General Assembly to increase the availability and affordability of smartphones in developing countries as well as the provision of digital skills training so that people can make the most of the devices.

The plan identifies three key measures that will have the most immediate impact on handset take-up:

  • increased use of flexible device financing by mobile network operators;
  • reduced taxes and import duties on smartphones; and
  • improved distribution models to make smartphones more accessible to rural communities.

To develop these ideas further, the Working Group, co-chaired by Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read, will create taskforces to address issues such as:

  • improving recycling regulations and developing quality standards for pre-owned smartphones;
  • developing strategies for the recycling of mid-range and low-end smartphone models;
  • exploring the use of Universal Service Funds and other government subsidies; and
  • further exploring the economic benefits of reducing tax and import duties on smartphones.

Nick Read, CEO, Vodafone Group, said: “Access to the internet, and smartphones, are critical enablers of jobs, education, healthcare, financial services and much more.

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

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Rabab Fatima, UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), said: “Only 45% of adults in emerging economies currently own a smartphone, compared to 76% in advanced economies. Women are also significantly less likely than men to own a smartphone and use the mobile internet if they live in low and middle income countries.

“Smartphones are not just consumer goods: they are accelerators for learning, connection and economic activity.

“But with the cost of a smartphone exceeding 70% of the average monthly income of people living in low- and middle-income countries, enabling access to, and use of, the internet must now become a policy priority for the international community.”

The Working Group included contributions from experts and stakeholders from around the globe, including representatives from the governments of Benin and Ghana, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation as well as the World Wide Web Foundation.

In the UK, Vodafone is helping to narrow the country’s digital divide with several initiatives.

The Great British Tech Appeal distributes donated smartphones to disadvantaged people that would otherwise go without, and everyone.connected aims to provide one million digital disadvantaged people with mobile internet access by the end of 2022.

Learn more about the Working Group and its plan.

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