The new multistakeholder initiative led by the Universal Postal Union (UPU) aims to bridge digital and physical divides and foster the socio-economic development of the communities served by Posts.The new initiative, called connect.post, has been developed with the support of Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), and in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Common Agenda, and the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.
According to Yu Ping Chan, Senior Programme Officer at the UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, connectivity of post offices can help catalyse broader connectivity within the community, providing a physical location for people to access the Internet, especially in remote and hard-to-reach places. “Such meaningful connectivity could be transformative, particularly for underserved communities,” Chan said.
ITU data reveals that more than one-third of humanity currently does not have Internet access, and at least 50% of businesses do not transact on the Internet, according to UNCTAD. “In an increasingly digitalized world, failing to bridge the digital divide will exacerbate existing inequalities, both for individuals and businesses,” said Paul Donohoe, Digital Policy and Trade Coordinator at the UPU.
The post office can play a vital role in diminishing these digital inequalities. Connectivity of post offices enables each community to connect to the government and the economy. “In outlying areas, post offices are often the only public service access point, where they constitute a vital channel to communicate and to exchange goods and services, between communities and with governments,” added Donohoe. “Connecting post offices is connecting communities, their citizens and businesses to the digital economy.”
Recent UPU estimates reveal that more than 100,000 post offices worldwide – out of more than 650,000 – remain unconnected to the Internet. However, the UPU has noted that the overall picture of post office capability is incomplete and therefore its first task on connect.post will be to collect up-to-date information to map post offices’ connectivity and digital capabilities. “This is so we can gain a precise picture of where we stand, set out the best way forward and measure progress,” Donohoe explained.
The connect.post initiative has also been designed to be transversal meaning it is linked with other UPU projects. The team hopes the initiative will provide the fundamental building blocks for digital transformation, which will enable the world’s post offices to be a community hub for digital financial services, e-commerce, e-government etc. Utilizing the UPU’s sustainability and cybersecurity activities will enhance the secure and sustainable digital transformation of postal services.
One operator that can attest to the benefits of connected post offices is India Post, which recently undertook a large-scale post office connectivity project where the operator networked its 155,000 post offices in the country using various technologies such as Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS), Wireless/Radio Frequency, VPN over Broadband, National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN)/FTTH (Fibre to the home), and 3G/4G sim-based connectivity.
Speaking about the connectivity project, Dr Kushal Pathak, Deputy Director General (Technology), Department of Posts, Ministry of Communications, Government of India, said, “It has enabled post offices to become a single point of all government retail services, such as passport applications and utility bill payments.”
“The project has also led to increased revenues for various services,” Pathak continued. “The postal article delivery information is instantly updated, money remittances are now delivered in real-time and various financial services such as post office banking can now be availed by citizens from the remote villages of India.”
The UPU will officially begin work on connect.post in 2023 and is now inviting interested stakeholders to get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org). “Closing the digital divide requires leadership, global cooperation and innovation in finance and technology. The UPU is committed to leading this initiative and looks forward to working together with stakeholders to advance towards digital inclusion for all communities utilizing the reach of the postal infrastructure as a means to achieve the SDG targets,” Donohoe concludes.
Learn more on the connect.post project page.