September 19, 2021

Lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis

Case Study By

Mr. Andrew Sullivan

President and CEO, ISOC

State of Broadband 2021

The ideas and opinions expressed in this insight are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of ITU and UNESCO or the Broadband Commission. The mention of specific companies, products or services does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by ITU or UNESCO or Broadband Commission in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.

The COVID crisis has shed light on the importance of connectivity in a way that we never could have imagined. The question is no longer whether we need connectivity, but how fast we can extend connectivity for business to continue, for children to learn, and for families and people to stay in touch.

The very nature of the Internet – a layered architecture, a common protocol, a global routing system, and an architecture that supports innovation – has proven its importance.

Nevertheless, the pandemic taught us several things. There are lessons to be learned, but also calls to action for better preparedness. The Internet Society would suggest that the international community needs to:

Voice support for infrastructure providers and limit restrictions on them: A year ago, some had been wondering if the Internet could handle the strain of rapid traffic growth and increased latency. Would it cause a catastrophic failure of the Internet? The answer is that such a failure did not happen. Core Internet infrastructure providers have been able to absorb the increases in traffic and demand, and should continue to be able to do so over the coming days, weeks, and months. Cloud infrastructure providers should also have sufficient additional compute, storage, and bandwidth capacity to enable their customers, including the e-learning, messaging, and videoconferencing tool providers, to scale their systems as necessary. Content delivery infrastructure deployed in many last-mile networks, from companies including Akamai, Cloudflare, Google, Netflix, and Apple, is helping keep traffic local. This said, with the COVID crisis, now is the time for Commissioners to call for more aggressive closure of the digital divide – increasing the availability of affordable high-speed broadband connectivity to un-served and under-served users.

Support Internet exchange points (IXPs): Because IXPs help keep traffic local, giving local network providers a place to interconnect and exchange traffic with one another, as well as interconnecting with major content providers. IXP development is dependent on training local technical experts, building communities of interest, and working with policymakers and regulators to support their development.

Support Community Networks (CNs): Because CNs offer a complementary access solution for connectivity, a lifeline for communities and to connect the unconnected. Governments can ease or eliminate barriers by easing regulatory requirements, providing tax and fee exemptions, expanding universal service and funding opportunities and enabling access to common resources such as spectrum.

Keep cross-communication channels and the Internet “on” and call on policy-makers to allow providers to keep networks up and fully operational: Now is the time to anticipate short-term and long-term policy and regulatory changes that will continue to be required in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. Some may be tempted to challenge the open and globally connected Internet model that we know. We would suggest that UN BBC members issue a call to resist the temptation to close networks. Keeping cross-border communication channels open is critical. Indeed, the Internet can only offer its full potential if it is locally and globally connected, and available, accessible, and affordable to all.