The rapid adoption of digital tools during the COVID 19 pandemic has shown the power of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve daily lives – and how the glaring or glaring lack of digital infrastructure can deprive entire communities of essential services.
Broadband mapping – by which regulators assess the availability and quality of services at local, national and regional levels – is essential for informed decision-making.
It is also a prerequisite for investing in a sustainable and inclusive broadband infrastructure that leaves no one behind, agreed members of the meeting of regional regulatory associations at the last Global Symposium of Regulators, GSR-21. .
The COVID-19 pandemic has made mapping exercises more important than ever to identify gaps and boost digital access among user groups and vulnerable communities.
“Regulators need a good understanding of broadband mapping to offset the negative impacts of COVID,” says Bridget Linzie, executive secretary of the Association of Communications Regulators of Southern Africa (CRASA) and chair of the 2021 meeting.
Vladimir Daigele, expert in network development at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), describes mapping as “important for understanding the reality of a place, as it allows different stakeholders to come together and plan technologies for communication. network and optimal financing solutions ”.
Discussions among regional regulators at GSR-21 focused on ways to promote broadband mapping tools, in particular to foster investment and competition aimed at achieving inclusive and sustainable connectivity.
Regional associations can serve as a driving force by disseminating information, tools and guidelines among their members.
Support universal access
ITU’s interactive transmission maps, which track backbone connectivity across 20 million kilometers of global terrestrial networks involving nearly 550 operators, can help define infrastructure strategies to connect underserved or disconnected communities.
ITU is also updating the ICT Infrastructure Business Planning Toolkit to include 5G networks. The toolkit aims to help regulators and operators design an optimal broadband network deployment in rural and remote areas using these cards.
Ensuring universal access, even in a specific sub-sector like education, depends on mapping the real demand for connectivity on the ground.
Giga, jointly led by ITU and UNICEF, relies on geospatial infrastructure data available on ITU maps.
In South Africa, mapping is underway to help achieve universal broadband access by 2025.
“Regulators have developed guidelines to analyze broadband gaps in connectivity areas, as well as gaps in broadband demand, radio frequency spectrum availability and broadband infrastructure investments », Explains Linzie.
In Central Africa, regulators hope the mapping will be used to create a practical regional index of ICT infrastructure, in place or planned.
“Thematic maps, with detailed information on active and passive ICT infrastructure in each country, will hopefully avoid overlaps in construction and deployment,” said Bernice Edande Otye, Permanent Secretary of the Central African Assembly of Regulators telecommunications (ARTAC).
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the crucial role of network security and resilience in sustainable development.
“An efficiently developed broadband mapping tool is useful not only for filling connectivity gaps, but also for resolving network incidents and monitoring resilience,” says Nataliia Lado of the Eastern Partnership Electronic Communications Regulators Network. (EaPeReg), representing Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
But providing broadband connectivity at reasonable costs requires a major upfront investment.
“This will have to go through collaboration between regulators and operators,” said Mohamed Chemani, secretary general of the Arab Regulators Network (AREGNET).
“Legislation must be passed to encourage investors to work for digital inclusiveness. “
Regulators, he added, need the right tools to collect relevant data, stimulate competition between market players and attract new investment.
Promote a harmonized approach
Collaborative broadband mapping requires a common and harmonized approach. The guidelines of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), for example, aim to ensure a consistent mapping between national regulatory associations.
“The basic guideline harmonizes our definitions, suggests which indicators to provide and advises on which operators should provide the knowledge we need to make these cards”, explains Annemarie Sipkes, director of the telecommunications, transport and postal services department of the Dutch Authority. for Consumers and Markets (ACM), and elected President of BEREC for 2022.
Another directive covers the means of verifying information. “It’s not just about network availability,” says Sipkes.
“The quality of service is also important. How else can we [regulators] check what the operators are telling us is going on? “
Regional associations can be key drivers of harmonization, according to Daigele.
Information on national mapping systems helps raise awareness, even between regulators and governments at the national level, as well as fueling regional harmonization initiatives and revealing opportunities for cross-border collaboration.
ITU can support regulatory associations in this regard, adds Daigele. “It’s about sharing information and having a forum where we can sit and discuss how to harmonize the methodologies used in different regions.
Beyond infrastructure, less tangible barriers, such as affordability or lack of digital skills, can also prevent people from using the internet.
Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, are struggling not only with redundant regulatory frameworks and a lack of long-term spectrum management, but also with a significant lack of ICT skills, says Oscar León, secretary. Executive of the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL).
After several years of acceleration, the deployment of mobile broadband networks slowed down in 2020, according to the latest data from ITU.
Around 85% of the world’s population would now benefit from 4G network coverage, which is double the level covered in 2015.
Regulatory associations say mapping tools, along with other ITU platforms and data such as the Regional Regulatory Associations Portal, will help improve infrastructure deployment and sharing, reduce costs and, ultimately, ensuring affordable access for consumers around the world.
Regulatory associations can ask ITU for help in exchanging best practices, defining common goals and terminology, and harmonizing data collection and mapping methodologies.
Regional and interregional cooperation is essential, noted GSR-21 participants.