Building hack better with broadband: how CO VID-19 has supercharged digital cooperation

By Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has upended lives as we knew it. However, for those of us with a mission to bring the power of digital technologies to everyone — it has also provided an opportunity. An opportunity to leverage the spotlight that the pandemic has thrown on the importance of digital connectivity, in order to galvanize global action and bring everyone online.

As the chapter on “Future of Digital Cooperation” expertly written by Hana Alhashimi, rightly explains, never before did we have such a vivid realization of how crucial digital services have become to our lives.

As physical interactions had to be replaced by the digital connectivity, people started realizing how much can actually be done online — often cheaper, faster and more efficiently than offline. Yes, many of us long for the times when it was normal to browse physical shops, bump into our colleagues at a proverbial “watercooler” and mingle at conference coffee breaks. At the same time, we discovered the convenience of home-delivered groceries, ease of video-calling our friends and family across the world, as well as the speed and effectiveness with which we could switch from one Zoom, Meet, Teams, Chime, etc., room to another. Those of us, that is, who have the privilege to take connectivity for granted.

Being offline means being left behind

As Ms. Alhashimi notes, too many people are still offline. For them, a lockdown means that they are no longer able to keep working, studying, shopping and staying in touch with their families and friends, without risking their health and lives. As this has disproportionally affected poorer and less educated people as well as women, the situation has become a stark reminder of the unfortunate power of the digital divide to exacerbate other inequalities.

Leading digital economy experts brought together by the ITU noted that countries with top connectivity infrastructure could mitigate up to half of the negative economic impact of the pandemic.92 Regretfully, there is a strong disparity among countries; while 87 per cent of individuals in developed countries used the Internet in 2019, only 19 per cent did in the least developed countries (LDCs).93 The COVID-19 crisis made it clear - it is our duty to not leave anyone behind, and this means, not leaving anyone offline.

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