Published in June, 2021
This article is part of the Global Solutions Journal 2021 Summit Edition, published on the occasion of the Italian G20 Presidency 2021 and the Global Solutions Summit 2021.
The outbreak of COVID-19, and the way it has been confronted, has not only accelerated the digitalizaton of large parts of societies and economies and the process of transformation into digital societies, but has also highlighted that connectivity and other essential digital services are crosscutting technologies that have become common goods (which could also be described as public or collective). Connectivity, which most of the time is provided by private companies, should be global and therefore produced in sufficient amount and at the right price.
It is a phenomenon comparable to that of electricity or running water and sewage, as well as cable telephony, which were once luxury services for the few, and are now necessary for all. Even more so in this case, as digitalizaton affects the very meaning of modern democracy in our societies, as far as inclusiveness is regarded. A lack of internet access with sufficient capacity to cope with new needs and the demands imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic leads to people being cut off from society, education and the economy. Digitalizaton and connectivity are an integral part of the plans and policies for economic, social and health recovery from the current crisis.
Already, digital wireless connectivity has allowed entire territories to save huge investments in telephone networks, and 5G can be another leap in this direction. But while 93% of the world’s population lives in areas that are within the physical radius of coverage of broadband services for mobile devices or the internet, only 53.6% of the world’s population currently uses the internet, meaning that 4.1 billion people are deprived of access. The least developed countries, where only 19% of the population has access to the internet, are the least connected, reinforcing digital gaps within and between regions.
The pandemic has accelerated the urgency of a new social contract for this era at national, regional and global levels, and such a pact clearly requires a digital dimension. The Spanish government,2 for example, proposes that by 2025, 100 megabits per second should be achieved for 100% of the population. A company like Telefónica, for its part, proposes a “Digital Deal to build back better our societies and economies” to achieve a “fair and inclusive digital transition,” both for Spain3 and Latin America.
The pandemic and the way of coping with and overcoming it has also emphasized and aggravated the significance of different types of digital and connectivity gaps and divides, between countries and regions of the world, between rural and urban areas, between social groups, including income and gender-related gaps, and between companies (large and small), which need to be addressed and bridged in these new social digital contracts. For the combination of digital divides and the pandemic amplify social disparities and inequalities in various spheres of life. Digitalizaton can contribute to enlarge those divides, but also to overcome them.
About the Global Solutions Initiative
The Global Solutions Initiative (GSI) is a global collaborative enterprise to envision, propose and evaluate policy responses to major global problems addressed by the G20, through ongoing exchange and dialogue with the Think 20 engagement group. The GSI is a stepping stone to the T20 and G20 Summits and supports various other G20 groups. The policy recommendations and strategic visions are generated through a disciplined research program by leading research organizations, elaborated in policy dialogues between researchers, policymakers, business leaders and civil society representatives.