UN calls on internet providers to shore-up networks and boost capacity to help mitigate the social and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic
- UN reveals three-pillar agenda to use the internet for good during health crisis
- Telcos and tech giants are needed to boost networks and increase cooperation
- They’re asked to protect millions of kids online for the first time to learn remotely
The UN has called on internet providers to shore-up networks and boost their capacity to help prevent the coronavirus pandemic from having a long-lasting effect.
The UN’s advisory body has set out an ‘Agenda for Action’ to ensure networks that ‘the whole world is relying on’ during the health crisis are robust, resilient and within reach of as many people as possible.
The agenda, set out at an emergency virtual meeting on Friday, outlines immediate measures that governments, industry, the international community and civil society can take to support digital networks and strengthen capacity.
Network providers and tech companies have been asked to ‘enhance digital cooperation’ and accelerate efforts to connect the remaining half of the population that don’t have internet access at a time when reputable health advice is crucial.
Developing countries are home to the vast majority of the estimated 3.6 billion people who remain offline, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN’s IT and communications-focused agency.
A UN advisory body has set out an Agenda for Action to ensure the networks the whole world is now relying on are robust, resilient and within reach of as many people as possible
‘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 ITU Secretary-General and Commission Co-Vice Chair Houlin Zhao during the meeting.
‘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.’
The Agenda for Action is built around three pillars, defined as ‘resilient connectivity’, ‘affordable access’ and ‘safe use for informed and educated societies’, under which are multiple recommendations.
These include increasing bandwidth and restoring service access where this has been restricted, prioritising connections to vital services such as hospitals, increasing affordability and availability of services and promoting child safety online.
The agenda is said to serve as a framework for the 50-odd commissioners of the UN’s Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development (BCSD), who each represent their particular organisation or company.
Commissioners of the BCSD – which is a joint initiative between the UN and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to promote internet access – include Paul Mitchell of Microsoft, Facebook’s Kevin Martin, Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm and Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins.
UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Advisor Fabrizio Hochschild made a plea to the commissioners and their respective companies to share initiatives, make new commitments and ‘foster collaboration and partnership’ in response to COVID-19.
Network providers have been asked to strengthen capacity at critical connectivity points like hospitals and transport hubs, and boost ‘digital access and inclusivity’
He said tech companies should do all in their power to combat misinformation and rising inequality and maximise access to relevant data for public good.
Millions of children who are going online for the first time during the crisis for the purpose of connecting to remote learning platforms following school closures also need to be protected, he said.
Mexican economist Dr Carlos M Jarque highlighted the need to harness technology for the common good, saying that ‘no past epidemic has had access to the broadband services we have today’.
‘Broadband can save lives and mitigate the economic consequences of the pandemic,’ he said.
‘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.’
UN chief Antonio Guterres described the pandemic as the biggest threat to the world since the Second World War
More than 100 representatives from around the world participated in the virtual meeting, which brought together stakeholders from international organisations, the tech sector, civil society and academia, including global CEOs, heads of agency, and leaders of tech and health industry bodies.
Earlier in the week, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned coronavirus is the greatest global crisis since the Second World War and that the potential longer-term effects on the global economy and individual countries are ‘dire’.
Guterres said at the launch of a report on the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic that there is also a risk the crisis will contribute to ‘enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict’.
THE THREE PILLARS OF THE UN’S ‘AGENDA FOR ACTION’
– Sustain and extend resilient, stable and secure infrastructure to support all populations, including emergency responders
– Increase bandwidth and restore service access where this has been restricted
– Strengthen network resilience and manage network congestion
– Prioritise connections to critical government functions, vital services and strategic connectivity points, such as hospitals, pharmacies, emergency centres, transportation hubs
– Ensure continuity of public services, which may require temporary relaxation of regulations and other policy measures necessary to fast-track response.
– Increase affordability, availability and accessibility of services and devices to ensure business and service continuity
– Support digital connectivity to ensure access to information and to promote social cohesion during confinement
– Help with financial hardship and economic challenges, through measures like price reductions and discounts on capacity, airtime and devices
– Support alternative funding models for complimentary access solutions
Safe use of online services for informed and educated societies
– Support safe use of online services by all, especially children and the vulnerable
– Respect the right to privacy
– Promote trust and security in the use of data
– Enable safe digital content sharing to support e-education, e-health, digital agriculture, e-financial services and mobile payments, and e-government platforms
– Empower youth and ensure and promote child safety online
– Promote the use of broadband to provide distance-learning programmes for all ages
– Empower people with quality journalism and evidence-based and scientific information about COVID-19
– Promote media and information literacy to detect disinformation and to advance understanding on the dangers of sharing false facts about COVID-19
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