A UN department charged with assessing the progress of broadband provision in some of the least economically developed countries said while significant progress had been made in physical infrastructure provision, societal barriers held uptake back.

In a report, the Broadband for the Most Vulnerable Countries working group (part of the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development) noted low digital literacy, a lack of affordability, and absence of relevant local content and applications limited uptake in some regions.

Its study assessed the progress made in mobile and fixed internet provision in four countries it defined as representative of the least economically developed.

Discussing the progress made to improve accessibility in Cambodia, Rwanda, Senegal and Vanuatu, it highlighted progress on network rollouts across all markets, with public-private partnerships and government initiatives praised for their impacts. The agency also pointed to the use of text messages and availability of mobile money services, especially in the health and agricultural sector.

To improve service usage in target communities, the group recommended: development of educational programmes to improve digital literacy and awareness; identification of complementary technologies to bridge the digital divide; introduction of technology solutions aimed at rural populations; supportive regulatory environments; and “striking a balance between coverage, affordability and digital literacy.”

Fekitamoeloa Utoikamanu, chair of the working group which put together the report, said she hoped embracing the recommendations would “help to unlock the myriad potential benefits that broadband can bring to communities, so that we leave no one behind as we strive to connect the most vulnerable of countries.”