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A promise to build the digital regulatory system back better

Source: ITU/GSR.

Stronger digital regulations are needed to deal with the aftermath of Covid-19 and to prepare for future crises, a group of leading ICT and telecoms regulatory authorities has said.

Addressing the challenges of digital transformation in wake of the pandemic and beyond was the main focus of ITU’s Global Symposium for Regulators, which took place last week online. The 20th edition ended with the launch of a new series of Best Practice Guidelines.

The participants reflected on the importance of digital regulations in the wake of Covid-19 in terms of digital market readiness, recognizing that there is no single blueprint for best practice. They stressed that regulations on a digitally connected economy must consider the local context while responding to global challenges.

Why this matters. Digital infrastructures - from videoconference to online payments and education platforms revealed their essential role during the Covid-19 pandemic, as citizens and economies under lockdown relied on them greatly. As ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao explained in a press release:

"This crisis has demonstrated that information and communication technology is a unifying thread that runs through all aspects of our societies and economies. At stake is the ability of regulators and policymakers everywhere to unlock investment to support growth, jobs and innovation – but also to save lives and demonstrate their value added in this increasingly connected world."

The guidelines call for more coordination among different stakeholders and increased efforts on transparency and sustainability.

GSR-20 targeted reforms. The ITU’s Best Practice Guidelines set four main recommendations for regulators, arguing that these need to happen at a global level and across all sectors to face future emergencies:

  • Agile framework for competition in digital markets: innovation, new business, and licensing models should be supported for affordable access to and investment in health, enterprise, and educational services over digital platforms.

  • Codes of conduct: digital platforms should create and enforce standards to address misinformation, online content quality, and child online protection.

  • Upgrading national emergency plans: by creating effective emergency plans addressing health and physical disasters, future crises will be better anticipated and negative impacts limited.

  • Spectrum reform: spectrum must be available for wireless applications when and wherever it is needed as easily as possible to guarantee the greatest benefits.

The bottom-line. A constructive and efficient approach to future global crises depends on the work of regulators and policymakers but also on the capacity of integrating local experiences and needs. In other words, to be prepared, the new digital regulation system needs to be adaptive, resilient, and fit-to-purpose.