Infrastructure | Regulation
April 29, 2020

ITU and partners launch action plan to boost digital connectivity during COVID-19 – and beyond

By ITU News

Digital technologies are having a massive impact during the COVID-19 crisis.

Text messaging is saving lives and curbing the spread of the pandemic. Contact tracing apps will help manage the spread and ease confinement that is crippling economies. And new technologies like artificial intelligence will help understand and tackle this virus head on.

None of these things are possible, however, without resilient networks that power digital connectivity.

“COVID-19 has thrown into sharp relief the connectivity chasm we call the digital divide.” – Doreen Bogdan-Martin

That’s why ITU, the World Bank, GSMA and the World Economic Forum (WEF) have launched an accelerated action plan to better leverage digital technologies and infrastructure in support of citizens, governments and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim of the plan is to put forward immediate priority areas for private-public collaboration that can be taken by governments in partnership with the private sector.

The action plan comes out of a high-level virtual roundtable held last week with finance and information and communication technology (ICT) ministers, ICT regulators, CEOs of telecom and technology companies from around the world.

Together, the group agreed that private-public sector collaboration will be essential to respond to the crisis to ensure networks are well-equipped to handle an exponential increase in digital traffic, help countries future-proof their digital capabilities and infrastructure, and ensure access to digital services for the most vulnerable populations.

The action plan aims to serve as best practice for governments and regulators during the COVID-19 crisis.

“It is a credit to the world’s ICT community that the huge surge in traffic caused by COVID-19 has not crippled our connectivity. But let us also remember that the power to stay connected remains a huge privilege. ITU figures reveal that 3.6 billion people remain totally cut-off from the internet. Billions more struggle with connectivity that is woefully insufficient,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau. “COVID-19 has thrown into sharp relief the connectivity chasm we call the digital divide. And it has refocused our minds on why bridging this chasm and bringing affordable access to all is so crucially important to ensuring no-one is left behind.”

5 priority areas of action

The leaders identified immediate priority areas for private-public collaboration that can be taken by governments in partnership with the private sector, starting now.

These areas formed the basis of the new action plan to maintain connectivity during the COVID-19 crisis – and to catalyze sustained collaboration between the public and private sectors to increase internet access beyond the current crisis.

The call for action seeks to pursue 5 key objectives:

  1. Increase bandwidth, strengthen resilience and security of networks, and manage congestion
  2. Connect vital services and ensure the continuity of public services to safeguard the welfare of populations
  3. Power FinTech and digital business models to support the most impacted businesses and communities
  4. Promote trust, security and safety online
  5. Leveraging the power of mobile big data
Initial operational response

The action plan also includes specific operational responses in the immediate-term (0-3 months) and short-term (3-6 month) in the following 5 areas.

  1. Promote network resilience
  2. Ensure access and affordability of digital services
  3. Support compliance with social distancing principles while providing vital connectivity
  4. Leverage e-health, telemedicine and Big Data to address the health crisis
  5. Ensure institutional frameworks are fit for purpose

The action plan aims to serve as best practice for governments and regulators during the COVID-19 crisis. It seeks to bolster other critical knowledge-sharing efforts, notably ITU’s Global Network Resiliency Platform (#REG4COVID) and WEF’s COVID Action Platform (the COVID Digital Response Network and the Digital Transformation for Post-COVID World group), the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’s Agenda for Action, and other platforms and forums.

Beyond COVID-19: an eye to the future

While addressing the immediate needs during COVID-19, the plan of action calls for a “new urgency” to address the digital inclusion agenda of governments worldwide.

“Concerted government action, in consultation with the ICT industry, is needed to achieve universal, affordable and quality broadband access, and to mobilize private financing to invest in digital inclusion,” says the call to action. “Prioritizing digital strategies that leverage e-government solutions (including digital identification), best practices in digital infrastructure regulation (e.g. predictable and cost-effective spectrum allocation, independent regulation, and infrastructure sharing), as well as digitalization of vertical industries, will ensure better preparedness for future crises.”

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ITU and partners launch action plan to boost digital connectivity during COVID-19 – and beyond

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