Making it Possible for the World to Log On
- Digital connectivity links people to markets, jobs, and opportunities.
- Comprehensive information on fiber optic networks, along with open data, and infrastructure mapping are critical to inform policy and investment decisions that can make internet more widely accessible.
- The World Bank supports these building blocks to help close the digital divide.
Mapping fiber optic networks, cables, and telecom carriers. Building standards and tools for public input and management. Creating regulations and laws that equitably govern and organize data and ownership. This is the practical work of building digital connection for people all over the world.
Broadband is high speed internet access delivered to users many ways, including fiber optics, wireless, cable, telephone modems, and satellites. It is the way to digitally connect to the modern world to markets, banking, school, healthcare, and opportunity. The COVID-19 pandemic starkly highlighted the importance of access to broadband internet connectivity to keep communities and services functioning in a locked-down world.
“We have seen that digital technologies are what’s keeping people, governments and businesses connected. Now, more than ever, we are focused on supporting meaningful access and bringing digital opportunities to all, especially those in the hardest-to-connect communities, so that no one is left behind,” said Christine Zhenwei Qiang, Director for Digital Development at the World Bank.
However, many people in developing countries remain unconnected to the internet. And many of those, who are connected, must cope with poor quality of service and spotty reliability. This number, in total, is huge—2.9 billion people, without connectivity, are cut off from the benefits of the digital age.
The World Bank supports significant investment in global fiber digital infrastructure to expand broadband connectivity to all— people and businesses– by 2030. But there are challenges: the size of investment required; potentially lower returns in connecting rural areas, where the unserved population mostly lives; and major gaps in data regarding existing telecom infrastructure. For example, the fact that digital infrastructure is mostly privately owned by over 3,000 internet service providers around the world means there is limited publicly available information on telecom and fiberoptic networks, which can hinder decision making around planning, maintenance, and expansion. For the data that is available, it’s not published according to commonly agreed standards. More readily available and usable information about infrastructure is critical to support decisions for targeted and cost-efficient digital infrastructure investments by the private and public sectors.
This is why the World Bank and its partners are working to create a digital map of terrestrial fiber infrastructure worldwide (kicking off with an initial focus on Africa), using open standards for data entry and sharing with public and private stakeholders. One of the most important tasks is to build a culture of openness and trust among regulators, infrastructure owners, and operators. The system can only work well with goodwill and cooperation, and trust is essential.
This mapping project with open standards aligns with the goals of the Partners2Connect Digital Coalition (P2C), which is working to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation globally across four pillars. The first is to link people everywhere, including in traditionally hardest-to-connect in rural and remote areas. The second aims to ensure that people have the skills and know-how to use digital technologies, content, and e-government services safely, inclusively, and equally. The third is to bring digital transformation to people using what’s called a “whole-of-ecosystem” approach, which relies on inclusive, collaborative policies and regulations to support entrepreneurship, innovation, start-ups, small and medium-sized businesses, trade, and job creation. And, finally, P2C strives to speed this transformation via innovative financing models and changes to public policy and regulations to accelerate public and private investment in meaningful access and affordable connectivity.
Affordable, accessible, and reliable connectivity can change lives for the better. To make that happen for the millions around the world who remain offline requires a focus on open data, common standards and data sharing initiatives to inform policy and investment decisions that can expand broadband connectivity to all.