Building a more connected world: How the OECD Recommendation on Broadband Connectivity is setting the pace

Reliable connectivity is at the heart of the digital transformation and has only grown more important recently – especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed millions of people online for work, education, entertainment and social connection. Recent data from our OECD Broadband Portal reveals that Internet traffic in some countries has increased by up to 90% over the course of a year with the average Internet bandwidth in OECD countries increasing by 58.4% from 2019 to 2020.

However, behind this recent acceleration, the COVID-19 crisis has also highlighted persistent digital divides within and between countries, regions, people, and businesses. As of June 2020, OECD countries had 32.5 fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants – almost 3 times the average of non-OECD countries.* High-speed broadband coverage in rural areas still remains a major challenge for many countries. For example, in Europe, only 59.3% of rural households were located in 2019 in areas with coverage of fixed broadband with a minimum speed of 30 Mbps.** In light of such gaps, the need to ensure ubiquitous, affordable and high-quality connectivity has become more urgent.

Connectivity has kept the economy and international trade going during the pandemic, but unfortunately, it has not been a lifeline for all. Without good connectivity, millions of people ultimately face greater exclusion. We need to build back better from the crisis, and addressing the connectivity imbalance has become urgent to be able to achieve this.”

Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, OECD Deputy Secretary-General

To address this challenge, countries need a holistic set of policies and regulations, especially when shaping economic recovery programmes.

The recently adopted OECD Recommendation on Broadband Connectivity gives concrete guidance to countries, setting out key principles for building a more connected world. Adopted by all 37 OECD countries plus Brazil, the Recommendation provides a roadmap for policy makers and regulatory authorities to achieve high-quality connectivity and ensure equal access for all.

The Recommendation is built upon five principles:

  • Fostering competition, investment, and innovation in broadband development.
  • Eliminating digital divides and reducing barriers to broadband deployment.
  • Ensuring resilient, reliable, secure, and high-capacity networks.
  • Minimising negative environmental impacts of communication networks.
  • Regularly assessing broadband markets.

Participants in last week’s high-level virtual launch – “Connectivity for All” – underscored the timeliness of the OECD’s Recommendation and its potential to propel real change in countries.

Opening the event, OECD Deputy Secretary-General Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, stressed the role of connectivity in the economic recovery, saying, “Connectivity has kept the economy and international trade going during the pandemic, but unfortunately, it has not been a lifeline for all. Without good connectivity, millions of people ultimately face greater exclusion. We need to build back better from the crisis, and addressing the connectivity imbalance has become urgent to be able to achieve this.”

Interventions by Mr. Kyeong-sik Cho, Vice-Minister of Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT, and Mr. Vitor Menezes, Deputy Minister of Communications in Brazil, revealed how reliable connectivity is at the heart of their countries’ policy agendas. Mr. Cho shared Korea’s key policies to boost fixed and mobile broadband rollout, as well as the quality and resilience of these networks. Mr. Menezes described Brazil’s approach to bridge connectivity divides across a large and geographically diverse country (nearly eight times the size of France and Spain combined, while comprising 60% of the Amazon forest within its borders).

This topic is of paramount importance to all countries, regardless of their level of development. It is a core foundation of the digital economy and the digital transformation.”

Boutheina Guermazi, Director of Digital Development, World Bank

Indeed, many countries are actively implementing measures to expand connectivity. Cani Fernández Vicién, President of the Comisión Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia (CNMC) described how Spain’s efforts to promote competition to boost fixed broadband deployment have helped the country to connect roughly two-thirds of all households at speeds of over 100 Mbps. Spain has now reached around 90% coverage of fibre, including in many rural and remote areas. Ms. Boutheina Guermazi, the World Bank’s Director of Digital Development, urged countries to act, saying, “This topic is of paramount importance to all countries, regardless of their level of development. It is a core foundation of the digital economy and the digital transformation.”

The OECD’s Recommendation on Broadband Connectivity advances principles that support an inclusive digital transformation. Speaking in reference to Mexico’s reform towards a more competitive communications market, the CEO of AT&T Mexico, Monica Aspe Bernal, noted that many people have been enabled to come online for the first time, including low-income households. In this way, she explained that, “economic competition can be a social policy” and that affordability is a “driver of inclusion.” Countries need concrete guidance to continue developing high-quality broadband infrastructure and services at affordable prices that are accessible for everyone. The OECD Recommendation on Broadband Connectivity aims to give policy makers everywhere the tools they need to achieve connectivity for all.

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*World without OECD using ITU data for 2019; OECD average for June 2020 including Costa Rica.
**This compares to 85.8% of households in other areas in Europe. Coverage is a supply side indicator, and refers to the percentage of households in areas where fixed broadband with a contracted speed of 30 Mbps or more is available provided through Next Generation Access technologies (i.e. FTTH, FTTB, Cable DOCSIS 3.0, VDSL and others). Source: European Commission (2020), “Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2020: Connectivity”.

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