Connect2Recover: New ways to build back better with broadband

Many of the world’s unconnected live in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

The heavy reliance on broadband connectivity during the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the negative impacts on communities suffering from digital exclusion, with the inability to access online services severely affecting education, healthcare, business and jobs, and access to vital government services.

ITU data shows stark digital divides between LDCs and developed countries, as well as within LDCs themselves.

The pandemic continues to shine a bright light on the urgency of bridging these gaps to ensure that no one is left behind, as digital transformation continues to accelerate.

“As we find ourselves in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the dial on broadband connectivity shift sharply from 'desirable' to 'essential',” points out ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau Director Doreen Bogdan-Martin. ”For communities that are poorly connected, lack affordable access, or have few digital skills, the pandemic continues to catastrophically disrupt every aspect of life, from employment and education, to access to healthcare and essential government services.”

As countries begin to recover from the pandemic, the focus on digital inclusion must be a central guiding principle for governments and regulators.

Wide-ranging challenges

When it comes to connectivity, the challenges facing policy-makers vary depending on their specific environment.

A significant number of communities still lack access to broadband, with the divide becoming even more pronounced between urban and rural areas.

At the same time, COVID-19 continues to test the resilience of Internet infrastructure, as bandwidth demand considerably increased, especially at the outset of the pandemic.

Many obstacles can impact the resilience of Internet infrastructure, as well as the mechanisms for increasing the overall resilience of Internet services. Such threats underscore the importance of measuring network/Internet service provider (ISP) resilience, critical infrastructure resilience and market/government resilience in delivering efficient and effective ICT services to citizens.

Strengthening resilience

To address these challenges, ITU, in partnership with the governments of Japan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, launched Connect2Recover. The objective of this global initiative is to reinforce the digital infrastructure and ecosystems of beneficiary countries while fast-tracking the UN Sustainable Development Goals so that no one is left behind.

As part of this ongoing initiative, ITU has prepared A Methodology for Identifying Connectivity Gaps and Strengthening Resilience in the New Normal, a report designed to help beneficiary countries develop resilient digital infrastructure as well as to update their national broadband plans or digital strategies.

The report details six key elements common to successful national broadband plans: good governance; clear goals; regular assessment of availability and adoption; supply-side interventions; demand simulation activities; and monitoring and evaluation programmes.

Insights from this report can be applied to other ITU ‘build back better with broadband’ initiatives. For example, its findings can support efforts to map connectivity demand using connectivity in schools as a benchmark to identify gaps.

Next steps

As one of the next steps in the Connect2Recover initiative, ITU launched the Connect2Recover Research Competition to identify promising research proposals that will accelerate digital inclusion during the COVID-19 recovery.

Supported by ITU Telecommunication Development Sector Member Huawei, this initiative seeks research proposing empirically sound and targeted insights, as well as recommendations for fostering digital inclusion amid COVID-19 recovery efforts.

For more information about Connect2Recover, contact Connect2Recover@itu.int.

Learn more about the research competition and apply here.

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