Shortly after the declaration of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns across most parts of the world, ITU raced to launch the Global Network Resiliency Platform (#REG4COVID) in March 2020.
Since then, ICT regulators and policymakers from all regions of the world have gone to the platform to share useful insights, best practices and lessons learned to boost network resiliency in the face of unprecedented network demands.
By facilitating the sharing of this type of relevant information and expertise, REG4COVID has become a veritable treasure trove of tried-and-tested initiatives, regulatory measures and policy actions, all of which are grounded in international experiences and best practices.
By mid-June, the platform received over 400 contributions, demonstrating a strong motivation on the part of countries to collaborate and share experiences in different areas, from consumer protection to traffic management to the availability and accessibility of broadband, emergency telecommunications, and beyond.
Many of the initiatives submitted to the REG4COVID platform made their way into a GSR discussion paper entitled “Pandemic in the Internet Age” published in June 2020. The paper offers ICT stakeholders a thorough analysis of these measures, as well as trends for different groups of stakeholders as they developed in countries worldwide.
Immediate and long-term regulatory responses covered
Both immediate and long-term responses are covered, as well as strategies and best practices to inform a well-prepared recovery. These can range from ensuring resilient connectivity, business continuity and service delivery (especially during data traffic surges) to maintaining continuity of vital services while ensuring affordable, safe, and secure access to online services. The report also identifies which practices should be considered for inclusion in a national emergency telecommunication plan (NETP), as well as broader ICT contingency and development plans.
Despite the lockdowns that have been enforced worldwide, the use of digital tools has enabled some level of economic activity to continue in many countries.
“Pandemic in the Internet Age” highlights the differences that may occur due to market maturity and economic development while identifying innovative regulatory measures needed to address specific challenges for operators, businesses, governments, and end users – including most vulnerable populations.
The report also provides a checklist of actions and regulatory measures for better preparedness to complement the recently released ITU emergency communications guidelines.
Key findings from “Pandemic in the Internet Age”
1. From an economic perspective, the cost of delays in deploying new technologies and services is higher than ever. In a post-pandemic world, telecommunications and ICT services are now more valuable to society. Each year of delay in providing better and increased levels of service results in a materially greater opportunity cost.
2. This means it is now socially optimal and arguably imperative to urgently bring forward deployment of new digital infrastructure. Implementing this key finding can look like the assignment of in-demand IMT spectrum and new generations of technological standards, for example, or moving more rapidly to 4G and 5G, or addressing the COVID-19 specific challenges around contact tracing and disinformation.
3. Equity challenges in accessing telecommunication and ICT services in the post-COVID world must be addressed. To the extent that improved access to telecommunications and ICT services can provide social inclusion, access to services, gender equality, access to education and, potentially, access to employment, ICT has an essential role to play in offsetting these negative equity impacts of COVID-19.
4. While it may be tempting to consider that an effective vaccine would enable the world to return to pre-pandemic days, many factors suggest that “the new normal” may look quite different. For telecommunications operators, this might look like adapting network to increased video traffic, improving quality and reliability, and continuing to build capacity while accelerating 4G/5G deployments. However, the key elements that comprise or influence the “new normal” for the ICT sector should be further reviewed in 12 months. In the medium and longer term, there will be flexibility for more substantial and sustainable responses.
5. Lastly, while the world is trying to comprehend what the a “new normal” will look like, it is clear that the changes forming now will be enduring. As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently stated, “COVID-19 will be one of the things that creates changes in our society. Our responsibility as a society, as governments, is trying to figure out how to minimize the negative impacts of those changes while maximizing the safety of [our citizens].”
Learn more about REG4COVID.
Download the GSR Discussion Paper Pandemic in the Internet Age.