Beyond digital access as a human right in cities
Proposing an integrated, multi-dimensional approach


An estimated 68% of the world’s population (6.6 billion people) are expected to live in cities by 2050. 

Cities around the world are increasingly pursuing digital transformation strategies to keep pace with the rapid development of emerging technologies and meet the needs of city residents, while working to mitigate or manage the effects of global crises.  

While internet access rates are 2 times higher in urban versus rural areas and cities are more likely to have near universal mobile network coverage, with higher quality coverage compared to rural areas (ITU 2022, p. 35) these statistics only tell part of the story when it comes to the state of urban digital access. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, climate and political crises, conflicts, forced displacement, and deepening economic inequality have exacerbated and further amplified existing digital divides, rendering access more difficult for systematically marginalized and excluded communities.

Digital Future Society and UNU-EGOV are excited to share this whitepaper, Beyond digital access as a human right in cities, to help local administrators, policymakers and civil society advance SDG11 and promote the wellbeing, rights and agency of people, communities, and environment.  

Realising universal digital access as a means of achieving SDG11 remains a challenge for cities around the world. There are currently no cities that have successfully eliminated digital divides and inequalities entirely. While there is no perfect model or roadmap to follow, there are best practices and lessons that can be learned from and adopted for each unique urban context. This whitepaper includes case studies from Barcelona, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Riga and Toronto.  

By adopting a more comprehensive approach to digital access that integrates human rights, intersectionality and systems, local city administrators, policymakers, and civil society can promote the wellbeing, rights, and agency of people, communities, and the environment while helping to address digital divides. 
Cities have a unique opportunity to shape the future of digital governance and help ensure that urban digitalization is contributing to sustainable development.   
Bushra Ebadi, social innovator, global strategist, and interdisciplinary researcher. United Nations University Operating Unit on Policy-Driven Electronic Governance (UNU-EGOV)