Amanda Russo, Public Engagement, World Economic Forum, +1 415 734 0589, Amanda.Russo@weforum.org
Geneva, April 21, 2020 — During a high-level dialogue, Finance and ICT ministers, ICT regulators, CEOs of telecom and technology companies from around the world discussed an accelerated action plan to better leverage digital technologies and infrastructure in support of citizens, governments and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hosted by the World Bank, in partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), GSMA – the global mobile industry association— and the World Economic Forum, this virtual roundtable gave participants the opportunity to agree on a set of high impact and immediate measures to help countries remain connected.
Participants agreed that now is the time for an accelerated private-public sector collaboration to jointly 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 for subsequent crises, and ensure access to digital services for the most vulnerable populations. Participants also noted that concerted government action, in consultation with the ICT industry, is needed to remove regulatory bottlenecks and improve connectivity in these unprecedented times.
This action plan discussed during the high-level event outlines areas for action to maintain connectivity during the COVID-19 crisis:
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
Following the high-level dialogue that took place today, the final Joint Action Plan will be published by the four organizations, with the aim to serve as best practice for governments and regulators during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Governments, regulators and the telecom industry must do all it takes to deploy affordable, reliable, and safe digital technologies. As soon as the crisis hit, we have been working hand in hand with, the ITU, GSMA, and the World Economic Forum on a joint action plan to help governments cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and increase connectivity access. We are committed to work together to achieve the promise of new technologies for all and keep the world connected,” said Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s Vice President for Infrastructure.
“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. 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,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.
“Thanks to large and ongoing investments from operators, networks are proving well equipped to handle the unprecedented surge in traffic as more people rely on digital services to work from home, manage their businesses and communicate remotely with friends and family. Response to COVID-19 has demonstrated the strategic importance of robust, resilient and secure digital infrastructure to the social welfare of everyone in society and the continued functioning of the economy. We urge governments and regulators to work together with the industry to ensure they can meet the demands on networks, while at the same time supporting affordability and access to the full range of services by consumers and businesses”, said Mats Granryd, Director General GSMA.
“From getting the latest information to supporting health services or adapting supply chains across the globe, we have never been so acutely aware of how critically we depend on digital connectivity. As the international organisation for public-private partnership, we look forward to continuing to work with the World Bank, ITU, GSMA and all our partners to ensure that we not only act urgently to keep our global connective lifeblood of information flowing to tackle our current crisis but that we sustain that urgency to extend internet access to all,” said Derek O’Halloran, Head of the Future of Digital Economy at the World Economic Forum.
About the World Bank Group:
The World Bank Group, one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, has launched its first set of emergency support operations, to help save lives, detect, prevent and respond to coronavirus in developing countries. Given the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 poses, the World Bank Group expects to deploy up to $160 billion over the next 15 months to help countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery. For more information, visit: www.worldbank.org
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the specialized United Nations agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), driving innovation in ICTs together with 193 Member States and a membership of over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organizations. Established over 150 years ago in 1865, ITU is the intergovernmental body responsible for coordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communication infrastructure in the developing world, and establishing the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems. From broadband networks to cutting-edge wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, radio astronomy, oceanographic and satellite-based earth monitoring as well as converging fixed-mobile phone, Internet and broadcasting technologies, ITU is committed to connecting the world. For more information, visit: www.itu.int
The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting more than 750 operators with almost 400 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organizations in adjacent industry sectors. The GSMA also produces the industry-leading MWC events held annually in Barcelona, Los Angeles and Shanghai, as well as the Mobile 360 Series of regional conferences. For more information, please visit the GSMA corporate website at www.gsma.com.
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All opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Economic Forum Blog is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around the key topics that shape global, regional and industry agendas.