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To manage that surge, governments and regulators in more than 80 countries moved quickly to change rules, including those governing the allocation of radio spectrum – the electromagnetic waves used for wireless communications. In Ghana, regulators assigned temporary radio spectrum to networks in high demand, and all mobile-service providers were granted permission to expand coverage. This resulted in better-quality service for more than 30 million mobile subscribers, letting them “go” to work, learn online, and access essential services.
Agile regulations have also helped digital technologies offer critical support to people in fragile and conflict situations. In Ukraine, the presence of a strong internet connection through satellite links, even while terrestrial infrastructure is under attack, has enabled the government to communicate with its citizens in real time. At the beginning of the war, shelling and cyberattacks were predicted to take down the internet, but innovations such as the satellite hookups have kept the country online. Here, too, the Ukrainian government moved quickly to speed up permissions and adapt rules.
But a digital lifeline is effective only if it is safeguarded from cyberattack, something that Ukraine knows well. For many years, the country has been a testing ground for strikes on infrastructure. Hackers carried out waves of attacks that hit Ukraine’s distribution centers, call centers, and power grid.
And it’s not just Ukraine. All countries are vulnerable to these incursions. The United States fell victim to cyberattacks last year that took down its largest fuel pipeline, leaving many Americans in long lines to fill their gas tanks. And in Africa, Kenyan internet users endured more than 14 million malware incidents in 2020.
To mitigate such vulnerabilities, unleashing digitalization needs to be a high priority even in periods of relative calm. Potentially transformative yet fast-evolving technologies require policymakers to promote financing, regulations, and institutions that make it easier to test out new ideas in real life. Some countries are starting to make progress. Kazakhstan is using agile regulation to digitalize, decentralize, and decarbonize its vitally important energy operations.
Recent research has shown that the availability of cheaper internet access increases employment among low-income households.
Countries such as Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Malaysia provide low-cost plans for poorer users.
Digital access is essential for people all over the world, especially residents of under-connected rural areas, the poor, women, and the displaced. In Nigeria and Tanzania, poverty rates fell by seven percentage points in areas with internet connections.