The aim of the session was to discuss how governments and the private sector could collaborate to ensure reliable and secure connectivity during the global crisis and thus create a framework of trust. Further, the session sought to examine lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and the best practises for evolving this framework of trust to prepare for and respond effectively to any future events.
Mr Chris Boyer (Vice President of Global Security and Technology Policy at AT&T Services, Inc.) moderated the session. He started by giving a brief overview of the problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the role of the Internet in managing the crisis. He touched on how collaboration strategies, the evolution of the framework of trust, and the documentation of best practices could help in managing more effectively a crisis of this nature in the future.
Boyer then posed the following policy questions to help steer the discussion among the panellists; 1) How can best practices at the infrastructural level build user trust in the reliability and stability of Internet services, especially in times of the global crisis? 2) How can businesses and governments work together to ensure sufficient bandwidth through each leg of the communications network? and (3) How can businesses and governments expand connectivity to meet increasing levels of demand during the global crisis, especially for vulnerable populations?
Ms Doreen Bogdan-Martin (Director, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau) addressed the first question by pointing out the fact that connectivity was at the top of the agenda at the IGF2019, and this year more than ever, with the advent of COVID-19, the connectivity discussion is more urgent. She further mentioned that operators, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia, had to reduce investments due to the pandemic, which has further widened the connectivity gap.
Bogdan-Martin moved on to the second question by stressing that governments and businesses cannot keep doing business as usual if we want to achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs). More should be done to surmount key barriers and challenges such as affordability, computer proficiency skills, and access to devices such as laptops and smartphones to support remote learning and work. She stressed that if there is one thing that COVID-19 has taught us, it is for governments to make digital strategy a top priority.
Mr Toshiya Jitsuzumi (Chuo University, Japan), for his part, commenced the discussion by highlighting Japan’s initial two-pronged approach to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, which reduces the impact of the disease whilst maintaining economic growth. According to him, the strategy now is to ensure total recovery and eradication of the disease. Jitsuzumi recounted the first case in Japan and the government’s response. While there was no clear legal framework to indicate what the government could support, the ubiquitous broadband and strong infrastructure enforced trust between the citizens and the government. This led to voluntary installation of tracing applications on phones which helped track and contain the disease. The trust between the government and the citizens prevented demonstrations contrary to what was happening in other countries.
Ms Kathryn Condello (Sr. Director, National Security/Emergency Preparedness, Century Link) said that her company, which is a global Internet Service Provider (ISP), had two key focuses during this pandemic. First is to ensure the scaling up of capacity to support shopping, learning, and working from home. Second is to ensure the connectivity is well distributed. She noted that the issue that needs to be addressed is how to ensure security as people take their work from the business environment to the home environment.
In addressing the importance of stakeholder collaboration in building trust, Jitsuzumi mainly highlighted the resilient infrastructure that was in place, which allowed people to willingly change their behaviour by working with the government to address the pandemic. He presented a research to illustrate how people changed their behaviour in response of the declaration of the state of emergency in Japan, and how even after the state of emergency was lifted, people continued with reducing personal contacts by about half of what used to be before COVID-19.
Condello said that her company Century Link, has moved from their bilateral collaboration relationship between the business and their customers to multilateral collaborations including other ISPs, cloud service providers as well as gaming companies to form a united front to address issues due to COVID-19. This multilateral collaboration served as a leverage to engage governments to put in more effort to contain the spread of the virus. The collaboration with the government also enforced trust with service users.
Bogdan-Martin touched on the benefits of collaborations by highlighting all the initiatives that the ITU have implemented to address the challenges of COVID-19 by partnering with other institutions. Among other things, she talked about the collaboration with the World Bank, the Broadband Commission in organising several dialogues aimed at driving the digital agenda in the face of COVID-19. She also mentioned the closer collaboration with UNICEF to ensure connectivity in schools around the world.
Finally, the panellists shared the best practises from their work that could help in a better response to pandemics in the future.
Condello mentioned three main things: First, access to broadband in rural areas is a prerequisite. Second, the new normal of working and learning from home will not change any time soon even when COVID-19 is over which calls for a resilient security of the infrastructure to support working from home. Third, a pandemic of the scale of COVID-19 requires better coordination and alignment between federal, state, private, national, and regional efforts.
Bogdan-Martin reiterated what ITU is doing for member states, such as assisting members to assess their current digital infrastructure. She called on governments to put in place national ICT emergency response strategies in order to be able to respond effectively to any event occurrence in the future. Jitsuzumi, for his part, echoed the strengthening of capacity to support demand for digital services.