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Statement by H.E. Mr. Sven Jürgenson, Permanent Representative of Estonia at the event "Turning the Corner on the Digital Divide: 50%+ now online – How do we leave no one behind?", New York, 30 January 2019

30.01.2019

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to ITU, whose initiative has brought us together to discuss this important topic. I would also like to thank other co-hosts for their valuable contributions.

In 2018, the world reached an important milestone – more than 50% of its population had access to the Internet. While access to Internet is surely not one of the basic human needs, such as food and water, it is however becoming increasingly more important in today’s world, as the lack of access to ICT only widens inequalities. This is why it is crucial that we re-double our efforts to bring the remaining 48.8% of the global population online.

However, there should be no illusion – there is a lot of work ahead of us. Currently, the digital disparities are severe: in developed countries, four out of five people are online. In developing countries, 45% of individuals use the Internet. In least-developed countries only 20% use the Internet. Furthermore, digital divide exists not only between countries but also between demographic groups within countries. For instance, there is a gap between the rich and the poor, the urban and rural population, there is a digital gender gap and a digital age gap, just to name a few. So the problem at hand is indeed very complex, but certainly not hopeless if we work together to tackle it.

The good news is that benefits of the use of ICT far outweigh the cost of initial investment and maintenance of it. Estonia is a case in point how the use of ICT can help to accelerate the development of a country. In 1991, after regaining independence, Estonia was a recipient of development aid and a poor country.  In 1996, the political leadership decided to invest heavily in the development and expansion of ICT infrastructure in Estonia. The project was called the Tiger’s Leap. By 2000, Estonia was already a small donor. This accelerated development path was, in no small part, due to adoption of the ICT and e-governance solutions. Digitalization brought Estonia more economic growth, more resource efficiency and more human development.

In spite of these digital advances, Estonia has realized that there is no sustainable development if the least advantaged among us are left behind. To provide equal  opportunities, we are working to make our online services accessible to minorities who speak different languages, we offer classes for the elderly for them not to feel alienated from the digital world, and we are providing technological solutions for people with disabilities for them to be able to have the same opportunities as those who do not have special needs. 

Given how much the use of ICT is helping decrease inequalities, I'm proud that Estonia has chosen the furthering of good governance via ICT as one of the key priorities of our country's international development cooperation. In this connection, I am glad to announce that Estonia together with UNDP recently launched a cooperation project to share our experience of digiltalization with fellow Member States through UNDP and its more than 170 country offices.  This will allow fellow Member States to benefit from Estonia’s experience, and hopefully find a way to replicate that model in their respective countries. For sure everyone’s digital transformation will be unique, tailored to the particular conditions of the country.  However, without a doubt, the cooperation project has immense potential to have an accelerating effect on development and inclusion globally.

In this day and age, the ICT companies have the necessary technology to bring Internet even to the most remote locations, investors have the necessary finances to fund such programmes, NGOs have a good understanding of the needs on the ground, and many countries, such as Estonia, have the necessary expertise to support inclusive digital transformation. What we need now, is to use the convening power of the UN, to make sure that we all work together in a concerted effort, to provide universal and affordable access to those people who do not have it yet.

The truth is that the world cannot afford not to be digital, if we are to achieve the sustainable development goals. We all need to work together to tackle the digital divide, and Estonia is determined to do its part.  We hope that today’s event will create further momentum to achieve the promise of 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind.

Thank you!

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