By Stephen Bereaux, Deputy to the Director, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau
For me, there is one word that has defined the past year: together. During the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were stronger together. Now, we are working to build back better together as we slowly start to recover, writes STEPHEN BEREAUX.
As a former regulator, I know that the best way to close the widening digital gap and achieve meaningful and inclusive connectivity for all is by working together. That is why events like the recent ITU Policy and Economics Colloquium (IPEC-21) for Latin America and the Caribbean are vital in today’s quickly evolving telecommunications environment; they provide an opportunity for regional experts to share unique knowledge and experiences, and to develop effective partnerships to advance connectivity.
Held on 10 and 11 May, IPEC-21 gathered more than 260 stakeholders from across the Americas and other parts of the world to discuss financing for digital infrastructure and affordable ICT services, as well as access challenges and uses of the digital ecosystem. All this was in keeping with the concurrent Best Practice Guidelines consultations as part of the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR).
Other topics covered at IPEC-21 included:
– Collaborative 5th Generation Regulation
– Regulatory and economic policies and strategies for information and communication technology (ICT) development in the Americas Region – and their COVID-19 implications;
– Economic and financial aspects of the digital ecosystem;
– Effective partnerships to advance connectivity and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The regulatory aspect of COVID-19 recovery
Two newly released ITU publications explore regulatory challenges, and propose possible solutions to support connectivity in the post-COVID-19 era.
Pandemic in the Internet Age: From second wave to new normal, recovery, adaptation and resilience identifies what has worked – and what hasn’t – in ongoing efforts of the global ICT industry, national regulatory authorities, and private companies to keep us connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Analyzing over 500 experiences collected through the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) flagship #REG4COVID platform since March 2020, the report recommends actions and regulatory measures aimed to get closer to a post-pandemic “normal”: addressing the digital divide; driving digital deepening; effecting digital transformation; and building digital resilience.
A second report, released during IPEC-21, The telecommunication industry in the post-COVID-19 world, considers longer-term ways to boost digital access and avoid leaving the unconnected ever further behind.
No “silver bullet” will solve the universal connectivity challenge. Countries need a mix of solutions to stimulate investment, increase affordability, and build digital skills.
The report explores promising new business models, innovative infrastructure and potential financing strategies to deliver universal connectivity in the post-COVID-19 world. It also outlines potential obstacles.
In parallel, the ITU/World Bank Digital Regulation Handbook is now available in a new Spanish-language version, along with all other UN languages. The handbook helps regulators and policy-makers navigate today’s fast-moving regulatory environment, providing practical guidance and best practices for informed decision-making to harness the benefits of the digital economy.
From recovery to acceleration
The ICT industry is now in recovery phase in relation to COVID-19.
But we must continue using the best practices acquired during the response stage to achieve our collective goal of meaningful and inclusive connectivity for all.
This sets the stage for what I would call the “acceleration” phase. The acceleration phase, too, requires coordinated global action.
This is why multi-stakeholder dialogues, like IPEC-21 and other upcoming Regional Regulatory Roundtables for the Global Regulators Symposium (GSR), are so important: they give us a platform to recover – and thrive – together.