The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development has adopted an Agenda for Action outlining immediate measures that governments, industry, the international community and civil society can take to ensure a strengthened collective technological response to the Covid-19 crisis.
The agenda, built around the three pillars of resilient connectivity, affordable access and safe use for informed and educated societies, aims to shore-up digital networks, strengthen capacity at critical connectivity points like hospitals and transport hubs and boost digital access and inclusivity.
The emergency virtual meeting, with over 100 attendees from international organisations, the technology sector, civil society and academia, was held to set out a framework for the commission's 50-plus commissioners and their organisations to share their own initiatives, make new commitments and foster collaboration and partnership.
“As the Covid-19 pandemic accelerates, making in-roads in the developing world and threatening all of humanity, we need to take immediate action to ensure no one is left behind,” said International Telecommunications Union secretary-general and Commission co-vice chairperson Houlin Zhao.
“This unprecedented crisis shows that nobody is safe until we are all safe. And it shows, with no ambiguity, that we will not unleash the full potential of broadband until we are all connected,” he said, emphasising the importance of accelerating global efforts to connect the remaining half of the population still totally without Internet access.”
Developing countries account for the vast majority of the estimated 3.6-billion people who remain completely offline.
United Nations under-secretary-general and special adviser Fabrizio Hochschild urged the commissioners and their organisations to enhance digital cooperation in response to Covid-19 and combat misinformation and rising inequality, maximise access to relevant data for public good, and protect the millions of additional children joining the online community for the first time in order to connect to remote learning platforms.
“It is important to use networks to disseminate timely information to preserve good health; to support e-learning for the more than 1.5-billion students working from home; to train, by digital means, workers in confinement to increase overall productivity and to promote e-commerce and digital services.”
To date, 1.53-billion learners in 184 countries have been impacted by school closures.
“This pandemic is doing what any big shock will do, and increasing the distance between those who have and those who do not. In addition to the devastating immediate effects of Covid-19, the secondary impacts on education, jobs and finances will continue to impact children and the world's most vulnerable disproportionately in the years to come,” added United Nations Children’s Fund executive director Henrietta Fore.
No past epidemic has had access to the broadband services that are available currently. Broadband can save lives and mitigate the economic consequences of the pandemic, added Dr Carlos M Jarque, who was participating on behalf of commission co-chairperson Carlos Slim.
“The commission is rising to the challenge and walking the talk in its efforts to recommend rapid and tangible actions governments, information and telecommunications technology regulators, private companies and the international community could take, individually and collectively, to optimise the power of digital resources to combat the global health crisis,” said Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority director-general Patrick Nyirishema, representing commission co-chairperson Rwanda President Paul Kagame.
Further, there is a need to think beyond the Covid-19.
“We need to address the inequalities in access and skills which have been so starkly revealed by the crisis, and which are so damaging to those who are most vulnerable," United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation assistant director-general for communication and information Moez Chakchouk noted.
This followed the launch last week of the Global Network Resiliency Platform to help policymakers, regulators and industry players ensure that networks are kept resilient and telecoms services are available to all to the maximum extent possible.