COVID-19 Crisis Response

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Broadband as the Hidden Hero of the Pandemic

Never before have broadband networks and services been so vital to our health and safety and to keeping our economy and societies working. Digital is truly the hidden hero of this unprecedented global crisis. With the new coronavirus continuing to ravage many nations around the globe and now beginning to make in-roads in countries less well-equipped to handle a major health emergency, immediate action is needed to ensure no one is left behind in humanity’s collective response to the crisis.

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, the UN’s high-level public-private partnership, is committed to putting digital cooperation into action, to keep economies and societies working, and to support the world’s vulnerable populations (the elderly, refugees and internally displaced populations, persons with disabilities, children, rural dwellers, indigenous communities, and those residing in the most vulnerable countries). A global pandemic demands a global response. The stakes have never been higher. We believe that building, reinforcing and scaling digital cooperation around three key broadband pillars will help accelerate our collective response to COVID-19 and lay the groundwork for a better and faster recovery built on a broadband internet enabled world.

Commissioners and their organizations are urgently collaborating to compile and disseminate a repository of tangible actions based on the three pillars of resilient connectivity, affordable access, and safe use of online services for informed and educated societies, to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and ease the immediate adverse impacts for economies and societies. Commissioners commit to champion and implement this Agenda for Action and invite all parties – intergovernmental, regional, national, industry, civil society and technical and academic communities – to join with us to leverage the power of broadband for more effective emergency response and to promote faster and better recovery.

Three pillars of the Agenda for Action

Resilient Connectivity

Sustain and extend resilient, stable and secure infrastructure to support all populations, including emergency responders. Increase bandwidth, restore service access where this has been restricted, strengthen network resilience, manage network congestion, prioritize connections to critical government functions, vital services and strategic connectivity points (such as hospitals, pharmacies, emergency centers, transportation hubs…), and ensure continuity of public services, which may require temporary relaxation of regulations and other policy measures necessary to fast-track response.






Increase affordability, availability and accessibility of services and devices to ensure business and service continuity, support digital connectivity to ensure access to information and to promote social cohesion during confinement, and to help with financial hardship and economic challenges, through measures like price reductions and discounts on capacity, airtime and devices. Support alternative funding models for complimentary access solutions.


Support safe use of online services by all, especially children and vulnerable population; respect the right to privacy; promote trust and security in the use of data; enable safe digital content sharing to support e-education, e-health, digital agriculture, e-financial services and mobile payments, and e-government platforms; empower youth, ensure and promote child safety online; promote the use of broadband to provide distance-learning programmes for all ages; empower people with quality journalism and evidence-based and scientific information about COVID-19; promote media and information literacy to detect disinformation and to advance understanding on the dangers of sharing false facts about COVID-19.​

​These proposed immediate actions to address the acute phase of the current pandemic and to save lives will need to be followed by mid- and longer-term strategies to ensure faster global recovery by minimizing the social and economic impact of COVID-19 and to prepare for future global challenges. Better recovery will depend on a commitment to our common responsibility to collaborate, partner and develop more inclusive and sustainable models for preventive and post-crisis development and preparedness for future crises.


Resilient & Safe Connectivity


  • Ensure connectivity and network continuity, increase bandwidth capacity and network resilience and security, including for vulnerable populations in LDCs and in refugee camps
  • Manage capacity to ensure rational use of the network
  • Provide vital/emergency services to support general population as well as emergency responders
  • Lease spare satellite transponder capacity at very nominal costs during emergency crisis
  • Provide temporary royalty-free software licenses for capacity augmentation, and Intellectual Property rights for related vital service delivery


Implement policy and regulatory actions to:

  • Temporarily relieve network capacity constraints and keep networks running and operational (including decreasing taxes and fees, offering wholesale services, temporarily freeing up additional spectrum which can be immediately deployed, infrastructure sharing, using existing USF funds, promoting cross border roaming etc)
  • Maintain internet access
  • Support urgent requirements to expand bandwidth and connectivity, inclusive of marginalized groups and vulnerable populations, including refugees
  • Streamline customs processes and classify network equipment as essential infrastructure to ensure supply chain continuity


  • Mobilize expertise, foster better coordination and international technical support


  • Provide support with expertise, research, innovation and thought leadership

Affordable Access


  • Provide in-kind support through donation of ICT services, cloud services, software, equipment and end user devices, and support working from home
  • Identify solutions for liquidity and financial shortage to ensure service continuity
  • Offer special tariffs for related health, education, humanitarian and emergency workers/services 
  • Offer free SMS and zero rating for access to health, educational content and government information services


  • Facilitate delivery of (and remove barriers to) industry commitments, and general provision of ICT services Use USF funding to support affordable access to health, education, humanitarian and emergency services and people and communities with special needs 


  • Finance national digital connectivity initiatives, and electricity generation, transmission and distribution vital for digital service provision 
  • Create pricing strategies and financing/investment documents to help finance national connectivity in schools, to be extended to health centres, emergency hubs, etc. 


  • Provide online educational content in local languages, training in health care and emergency services, and training for (non-IT) teleworkers

Safe Use of Online Services


  • Make available broadcasting capacity for education and health
  • Make available safe and secured digital platforms and open source software for health, education, food security, financial and governmental services, including sharing open-source Digital Public Goods
  • Promote quality education and information content and services; enhance policies against disinformation, increase transparency
  • Provide online training and safe digital tools to parents and teachers to keep children safer online
  • Share data on a voluntary basis and use AI to perform analytics for prevention and monitoring purposes, ensuring data anonymization
  • Use AI to support medical institutions


  • Provide guidance to consumers and the general population in areas including child online safety, data protection and cybersecurity measures
  • Increase proactive publishing to promote access to information, support learning institutions to conduct distance classes and take actions to foster media and information literacy


  • Promote and nurture innovative partnerships among organizations and with the private sector
  • Support norms and provide resources to educational and media institutions


  • Provide digital skills training programmes, programmes to promote online safety
  • Monitor and promote open educational Resources, enhance online capacity building around issues relating to information and disinformation



​Acceleration and implementation of digital cooperation and digital strategies and policies, including emergency health response, safer use policies, and strategies to promote greater digital inclusion, and identifying gaps for effective response and better preparedness.


Adoption of strategies aimed at promoting universal, affordable broadband connectivity, by mobilizing public and private funding and investment, especially in Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

increased promotion

Emphasizing and promoting the ongoing importance of connectivity for education, access to information and online user empowerment through media and information literacy.​​

identify synergies

Highlighting of areas where connectivity is playing a key role in the COVID-19 pandemic response and sharing of these stories to help build better and more resilient societies.​

designate as a BASIC RIGHt

Elevation to the G20 level - calling for resilient broadband networks as a basic right.


Implementation of agile and flexible regulatory measures to support inclusive and competitive digital environment.


Implementation of streamlined actions and partnerships to promote the expansion of broadband connectivity, digital services and digital inclusiveness to unconnected communities.​


Identifying major partners for public financing of connectivity of vital services including schools, and planning actions to attract institutional finance investors looking for a compelling market opportunity.​​


The current health emergency highlights the urgency of the Broadband Commission’s core mandate and ongoing agenda, and the work of its various Working Groups. Current Working Groups are focused on a broad range of areas including identifying new 21st century financing models for broadband access and connectivity; expanding broadband connectivity in Africa; mapping, connecting and financing connectivity for all the world’s schools; the use of AI to facilitate and accelerate better health care responses; and the deployment of broadband to facilitate public private partnerships to enhance epidemic preparedness.


Broadband Commission Co-Chair and President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, emphasized resilience in his written statement for the G20 Extraordinary Virtual Leaders Summit, stating “Let's work together to end the COVID-19 pandemic and build resilient health systems to keep our people safe in the future."
Co Chair, President of Rwanda
Broadband Commission Co-Chair, CEO of Grupo Carso, and President of the Carlos Slim Foundation, Carlos Slim released a statement on the allocation of one billion pesos through the Foundation to support health measures, education learning platforms, and employees and clients of Grupo Carso.
Co Chair, President of Carlos Slim Foundation
ITU Secretary General and Broadband Commission Co-Vice Chair, Houlin Zhao, launched a global platform to sustain and ensure continuity of telecommunication networks during the COVID-19 crisis. The Global Network Resiliency Platform will assist governments and the private sector in ensuring that networks are kept resilient and telecommunication services are available to all.
Co Chair, Former Secretary General of ITU
Director General of UNESCO and Broadband Commission Co-Vice chair, Audrey Azoulay, launched the Global Education Coalition to supp​ort countries in scaling up their best distance learning practices and reaching children and youth who are most at risk.
Co Chair, Director General of UNESCO