Together, we can build back better
*The following article is adapted from my opening remarks at today’s Opening Session of the 20th Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR-20).
The 20th edition of GSR comes at a time when the role of the ICT and telecommunication regulator and policymaker has taken center stage in the response to, and recovery from, the COVID-19 crisis.
An initial ITU response to the crisis that focused on the role of regulators and policymakers was the creation of the Global Network Resiliency Platform (REG4COVID), a tool to help our membership address the unprecedented demand faced by communication networks. Since then, REG4COVID has become a place where ICT regulators, policymakers, and stakeholders from all over the world can share best practices and lessons learned.
Collaborative regulation has been steadily gaining momentum, reflecting a data-driven world where the demarcation between the ICT sector and other industries has become increasingly blurred. ITU has experienced this digital transformation firsthand, with new players active in different sectors of the economy joining our organization in large numbers and becoming an integral part of our deliberations and discussions.
Building back better means leaving no one offline
The challenge is to ensure everyone is benefiting from this transformation – which currently is far from the case.
The latest data from ITU shows that 3.6 billion people remain offline, with most of the unconnected living in the Least Developed Countries. Although hundreds of millions of new users in emerging economies have come online every year over the past decade, unfortunately the overall growth is now slowing.
A new whole-of-government ICT investment strategy
As we look to recover from the pandemic, the investment needed in ICT infrastructure is estimated in hundreds of billions of dollars. This is one of the conclusions of ITU’s new Connecting Humanity study. And as I stated at the G20 Digital Economy Ministers meeting a little over a month ago, mobilizing such levels of funding will require the contribution and collaboration of both the public and private sectors – as well as adopting a new whole-of-government ICT investment strategy.
Too often, different government ministries invest in ICT infrastructure without consulting each other, or even the ministry responsible for ICT investment where it exists. This can end up causing duplication and lack of interoperability, resulting in significant inefficiencies and resource shortfalls. This is why since the beginning of the pandemic I have especially encouraged health and ICT ministers to work closely together.
This crisis has demonstrated that ICT is a unifying thread that runs through all aspects of our societies and economies, and the approach to ICT investments should recognize and embrace this reality.
The hurdles facing broadband development
Accelerating broadband development is a formidable challenge, in particular in those hard-to-reach areas where topography and demography make the return on investment challenging.
Earlier this year, I highlighted these problems and challenges in a Circular Letter to ITU Membership, the diplomatic community and the National Regulatory Authorities. While the challenges and cost are formidable, I believe the cost of not solving them will be even higher.
Universal connectivity: Collaboration among regulators is key
As the UN Secretary-General reminded us recently, “only by working together can we connect all people by 2030.”
Whole parts of the world’s economies now rely on digital platforms. Regulators and policymakers must work with investors, including operators, to create the conditions that encourage the investment that will meet the needs and expectations of the unconnected, providing more connectivity but also more security, better digital skills, and improved affordability.
At stake is economic growth, job creation, innovation and a safer more sustainable world for all.
Group photo during the opening session of the 20th Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR-20). Image credit: ITU
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