Government and technology leaders from around the world have endorsed an ambitious project to make permanent Internet connection universal and affordable for every household in the world within 4 years.

“I am absolutely convinced that broadband will be the defining technology of the early 21st century", Hamadoun Touré, Director General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), told a packed session of the Telecom World 2011 summit in Geneva (October 24-27).  

“These targets are ambitious but achievable, given the political will and commitment on the part of governments, working in partnership with the private sector,” he said, adding that such connectivity will accelerate progress on meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to eradicate world poverty.

The Broadband Commission was established by the ITU and the UNESCO (UN Education, Scientific & Cultural Organization) to set measurable targets for bringing the world’s least developed countries online through increased broadband use. The Commission was co-chaired by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and Rwandan President Paul Kagame who addressed the conference through a video message.

According to a new ITU report unveiled at the summit, there has been impressive growth of Internet use in developing countries and among the young “with half the world’s online population now under 25 years old.”  The report said the “developing world’s share of Internet users has grown from 44% five years ago to 62% today with global penetration up by 50% in three years. 

Access to the digital economy presents huge opportunities for the developing world although Touré warned that there is a risk of “creating a world of broadband rich and broadband poor.”

Stephen Conroy, Australia’s Minister for Broadband Communications, said he believes that “broadband will change the world” and lead to better education and more jobs through an open access network that will allow retail to thrive. All that’s required to make this happen, he and others said, was for governments to make broadband policy universal and to develop a regulatory framework to insure that industry has a stable space in which to operate.

Several participants registered their concerns about cyber security and making the Internet secure.  Shchegolev, Russia Minister for Communications and Mass Media, said laws should be established by governments at the state level with input from civil society to insure there are no violations of human rights.

Asked about whether their discussions included protecting state secrets, Touré said the conference was a technical one and such questions should be left for political conferences adding that “it’s best to avoid too much regulation.”