September 19, 2021

The COVID-19 digital transformation

Case Study By

Mr. Houlin Zhao

Secretary General of the ITU

State of Broadband 2021

There will be a before and after COVID-19 in terms of digital transformation. When the world looks back on this period, it will remember the role that broadband played in addressing one of the greatest global challenges in living memory. But history will judge us on how we as a society used this time to accelerate this transformation and leave no one behind.

The Commission is made for this moment, bringing a decade’s long multi-stakeholder effort to promote broadband worldwide. I am confident that together we can not only connect the unconnected, but also unleash AI, 5G and other emerging technologies central to the digital economy and our efforts to build back better with broadband. Post-pandemic recovery efforts need to be built on new regulatory and policy frameworks that embrace collaborative participation across and within sectors, with a new whole-of-government investment strategy at their centre.

We can make faster progress if we have the optimal combination of effective and agile regulatory environments, robust connectivity infrastructure, and a vibrant ecosystem of digital technology providers. It means adopting a new mindset, one that attracts investors to under and unserved areas and encourages all actors to cooperate and make the best use of limited resources.

It also means changing the false perception that the ICT industry is always more profitable than others and that we need not worry about ICT investments and development. At stake is no less than our ability to achieve the Commission’s 2025 targets and help deliver meaningful connectivity to all those for whom the digital technologies and services that have proven so essential during this crisis are still out of reach, unaffordable, irrelevant, too complicated to use, or not secure enough.

At ITU, we have redoubled our efforts to unlock these barriers to connectivity through key initiatives like Connect2Recover, which helps expand access to affordable and reliable connectivity in some of the least well-connected countries, and our newly launched.

Partner2Connect Digital Coalition, a multi-stakeholder alliance to foster digital transformation in the hardest-to-connect communities. ITU also works with UNICEF through Giga to connect every school to the Internet, and with the African Union and ILO to enhance skills for youth in Africa’s digital economy.

The recognition of broadband’s value has never been higher, calling on all of us to put people at the centre of our collective efforts to ensure an equitable digital future for all.

The Commissioners’ case studies and articles reflect the views of their authors alone and do not reflect the views of the Broadband Commission