Why ICT investment is essential for an inclusive global economic recovery
*The following article is based on my remarks today at both the 6th BRICS Communication Ministers Meeting and the Joint Meeting of G20 Finance and Health Ministers.
The UN Secretary-General recently called for achieving universal connectivity with affordable services by 2030. With only 10 years remaining, this presents a formidable challenge for the world. In fact, as the COVID-19 crisis has made clear, we have even less time than that!
While we should be proud of how ICT has enriched people’s lives and addressed this crisis, a big digital divide persists. Today, 3.6 billion people are still offline, and the improvement of connectivity is slowing down.
Linking sectors for ICT investment
Cause for hope can be found in the positive link between investment in public health and economic resilience and growth. The same link exists with investment in ICT. But when ICT investments are fragmented among different Ministries and not well coordinated within the same country, we risk causing capacity inefficiencies and resource shortfalls at precisely the time when more investments in ICTs are needed.
As ITU’s new Connecting Humanity study developed with the support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and presented at the G20 Digital Economy Track meeting shows, these investment needs are huge. But who is making these investments, and how might their strategies be improved?
Towards a whole-of-government ICT investment strategy
Up to now, the investment in ICT everywhere is mainly made by the private sector, which accounts for more than 90% of all investments.
But governments must not forget their critical role. It is important for national authorities to develop ICT strategies now more than ever. These strategies should be based on smart and innovative policies that create environments conducive to investment in ICTs, especially with respect to private sector investors.
Instead of letting each Ministry spend their budget on ICT to improve their services and their business, it might be more efficient and more beneficial if the government could coordinate all ICT investments more collectively by developing a new whole-of-government ICT investment strategy.
Finance Ministers are key in the formulation of such a strategy and need to work closely with their counterparts in other Ministries.
Upgrading services and the role of BRICS
Our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that nobody will be safe until we are all safe ─ and that we will not realize the promise of the digital economy until everyone is connected. Not only do we need to connect the unconnected 3.6 billion people, but we also need to upgrade our services with new technologies such as 5G, cloud computing, AI, and many more.
Encouragingly, many innovations and applications of 5G and AI have already reached markets such as those in BRICS countries. In fact, ICTs in general and broadband access in particular have been developed rapidly in BRICS countries over the past 5 years. Developments like these will have a profound influence on ICT development for the next decade. As active members of ITU, BRICS are particularly well-placed to help the rest of the world develop ICTs. I encourage them to use their distinctive voice and status as a major engine of global growth to lead the world’s effort to build back better and bring the benefits of ICTs to everyone, everywhere.
On the road to recovery, cooperation and solidarity are key
Last Friday’s resolution of the UN General Assembly on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic called for “intensified international cooperation and solidarity to contain, mitigate and overcome the pandemic and its consequences.” Similarly, connectivity is a challenge that impacts all nations and will require the cooperation and solidarity of all stakeholders.
Collaboration between the health, finance, and ICT sectors are especially crucial for more effective and efficient investment in the digital infrastructure, technologies, and services that have been so essential during this pandemic.
I had the opportunity to highlight the “4 I’s” ─ Infrastructure, Investment, Innovation, and Inclusiveness ─ as my strategy, and I count on your support!
Coordinating ICT infrastructure investments among all sectors will be instrumental, not only in connecting the 3.6 billion people who remain with no connectivity at all, but also in driving the development of new technologies ranging from AI to 5G that are central to digital health and the digital economy.
In closing, I invite readers to imagine what the situation would be like if we did not have the ICT infrastructure and services that are available to people today! We could not have accomplished very much had our Ministers, policymakers and others not provided smart policy initiatives or the right environments to facilitate ICT development. Armed with smart ICT investment strategies, let us continue on our path to make universal connectivity the cornerstone of a sustained and inclusive global economic recovery.
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