Background paper

Improving internet connectivity during Covid-19

Bhandari, V. (2020). Improving internet connectivity during Covid-19. Digital Pathways at Oxford Paper Series; no. 4. Oxford, United Kingdom

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced all of us to live, work, learn, and communicate online, making reliable and affordable access to the internet indispensable. However, those who are already disadvantaged are suffering greater digital exclusion during this time, in the form of inadequate internet connectivity. At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for positive regulatory change, since it has presented countries with an opportunity to deploy different regulatory and policy tools to improve internet access. Through the discussion of four cases – Panama, South Africa, Kenya, and the State of Kerala (in India) – this paper looks at the steps taken by governments to meet the increased demand for internet during the pandemic. It also examines the regulatory changes that may be necessary to nudge mobile network operators to ensure continued internet connectivity.

The paper summarises the different approaches that have met with success in the four cases in maintaining and improving internet connectivity during the pandemic. Governments and regulators can allocate spectrum temporarily; freeze internet and mobile payments on a temporary basis; prohibit a price increase; implement tax measures; support telecom infrastructure providers; use the unutilised money in the national Universal Access Fund; provide zero-rated access to websites (after taking into consideration certain factors); and monitor network capacity regularly. Countries should also adequately consider the time frame of their policies. These options can form part of a country’s policy toolkit during an emergency, and can be deployed depending on the local context and economic, political, and social factors.