ICTs, regulation and COVID-19 responses

A lot has happened in the world the past six months and there have been many responses as well as attempts to collect impressions and taking stock thus far. This is a short introduction to some of the publications and other resources available.

As we are moving into autumn the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to look less like a sprint and more like a marathon. Since lockdowns began in March, work, education and everyday life have moved online to comply with social distancing measures. This shifted an unprecedented load of traffic onto various communication networks and revealed weaknesses in infrastructure, services and legal frameworks.

Focus on industry and benefits

As many types of activities moved online many eyes turned to the telecom industries with keen attention to the ability to cope with such a sharp turn towards digitalisation. PWC, Deloitte and Ernest and Young among others have provided their perspective on the role telecom during COVID-19, or the other way around, how COVID-19 impacts the telecom industry.

Regulatory response to COVID-19

A lot of regulatory telecommunication initiatives took off in March, April and May and ITU Launched Global Network Resiliency Platform REG4COVID to collect examples of measures and initiatives introduced to ensure that we can bring the full potential of ICT to counter the pandemic and the restrictions it entails. So far over 420 initiatives have been listed from all around the world.

An ITU report released in May provided a quick overview of the types of response projects that were initiated in various countries as well as short term regulatory initiatives. These initiatives range from focus on infrastructure and loads, to information as well as managing disinformation campaigns and facilitating the use of mobile payments. There is another ITU report focusing more widely on industry response and ITU recommendations.

We are all developing

Browsing through the initiatives, it is encouraging to see that they come from both developed and developing countries. The current pandemic has revealed the existing weaknesses in the ICT landscape of many countries which underscores that we are all developing. In May 2020 the Swedish Post and Telecommunication Authority received a mission from the government to facilitate access to the internet by the senior population in Sweden, especially those who are isolated or live in care facilities. This is an addition to the project launched in Dec 2019 that focused on the access to internet by the senior population in Sweden.

COVID-19 is a double hit on weak and vulnerable groups

A report from the International Finance Cooperation of the World Bank Group notes that ”the general creditworthiness of customers has declined” and that ”lower-income customer groups, who are experiencing the most damage, are expected to reduce or stop purchasing airtime and data bundles.” As livelihoods and crucial information have become even more dependent on the use of mobiles and internet during the pandemic this becomes a double hit for vulnerable groups and should perhaps be picked up by regulators. Leaving no one behind are even more important in a time of crisis when the stakes are high.

This extraordinary time has brought with it an unprecedented shift towards digitalisation across many spheres of society. With this there is more attention to access and affordability, public services are being digitalised and there is more access to information and attention to disinformation campaigns. Good things can come from extreme events, but this requires attention to the right things planning and collaboration.

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