Leadership Series: Spotlight on ITU
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Leadership Series: Spotlight on ITU

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Digital Declaration Leadership Series: Spotlight on ITU

The Digital Declaration report Navigating the era of responsible business leadership in today’s world showcases how the Digital Declaration signatories are turning their aspirations into concrete actions and how technology can foster an inclusive, trusted, and innovative digital society for all.

This series of interviews provides a spotlight on individual leaders sharing their insights and perspectives around trust, inclusion, and innovation in the digital age.


In conversation with Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau, International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

How can collaboration and partnership contribute to bridging the digital divide?

Cross sectoral, cross industry collaboration and partnership is going to be the key. No one is going to be able to close the digital divides alone.

We need a more collaborative paradigm that brings governments, regulators and private companies together as partners, with pro-investment policies that can help bridge the financing gap that is currently keeping networks and devices out of reach of many millions.

Governments need to recognise broadband connectivity as a fundamental network service, like water, transport and energy networks. Broadband needs to become part of the basic toolbox for social and economic development.

Part of that picture would see governments and regulators partnering with infrastructure companies and network operators – maybe we could even envisage collaborative approaches to extend network availability between network operators themselves. ITU’s membership structure is itself a great example of how companies that compete very aggressively in some areas are also able to collaborate very effectively in other areas of mutual benefit – ITU global technical standards have been forged in precisely this manner for many decades.

Governments and regulators can help promote affordability by ensuring digital taxation frameworks promote accessibility and inclusivity. With connectivity now vitally important to development, we need to treat the ICT sector as an essential foundational pillar supporting every other sector and ensure people and businesses are empowered to take maximum advantage of digital devices and services.

What should the role of business be in advancing digital cooperation?

As the pace of digital transformation accelerates, formulating an effective regulatory approach has never been so critical.

While some still plead for unconditionally liberal markets, others call for caution, increased regulation and a rules-based digital order. Still, others are supporting a third way – a new deal, as they call it, which advocates for shared perspectives and common responsibility, and which strikes a robust balance between people’s rights and the technology that impacts so much on our everyday lives.

This new deal seeks to fast-forward digital transformation for all – and that ‘deal’ is embodied in what ITU refers to as fifth generation collaborative regulation. Such collaboration must engage a broad, diverse range of stakeholders in informed, evidence-based rule-making and decision-making, with both social and economic impact in mind.

The world is coping with the first global pandemic of the internet age. ICT infrastructure and systems are now recognised as a vital pillar of our economies, as part of an effective response to Covid-19 and the well-being of societies.

The ICT sector has so far demonstrated significant flexibility in its response to the Covid-19 crisis, with telecoms operators undertaking many short-term initiatives to promote connectivity, mostly voluntarily. These measures include things like providing for additional data allowances and increasing broadband speeds to support remote learning and working and facilitating contactless mobile money transactions to support social distancing and help limit the spread of the virus.

Thus far, the policy and regulatory measures taken during the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure resilient connectivity and continuity of vital services have been generally successful globally.

However, it is important to remember that in the medium and longer term, we need to be looking to more substantial and sustainable responses. It is imperative to urgently bring forward the deployment of new digital infrastructure, the assignment of spectrum, and new generations of technological standards. That will help the telecoms sector meet heightened demand and expectations with increased ubiquity, better digital skills, and improved affordability.

How relevant has the mobile industry become in the Covid-19 crisis?

The mobile industry is really at the hub of all of this. We know that mobile is, and will remain, the main form of connectivity for billions living in developing countries, where distance, population density and difficult terrain create connectivity challenges. Mobile devices also respond to the needs of communities where people are often on the move or working outdoors.

Our priority should be to help governments really leverage the tremendous power and potential of mobile. With 5G on the horizon in many countries, that potential is going to increase exponentially. It is vital that developing and emerging markets are not left behind as this next wave of innovation sweeps through the world. We must work hard to ensure we don’t further exacerbate inequalities and ensure more and more people have the chance to join the digital world as full digital citizens, with the access and skills they need to harness ICTs to transform their lives.

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