Broadband Commission calls for people-centred solutions to achieve universal connectivity

More than a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, amid relentless global demand for broadband services, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development has reaffirmed its call for digital cooperation, innovation with information and communication technologies (ICTs), and collaborative approaches to secure universal connectivity and access to digital skills.

The Commission's State of Broadband Report 2021​, released during the meeting, outlines the impact of pandemic policies and calls for a concerted, people-centred push to close the world's persistent divide. In the world's least developed countries (LDCs), no more than a quarter of the population is online.

"Digital cooperation needs to go beyond access to broadband," said H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Co-Chair of the Commission. “We also need to close the gap in the adoption and use of affordable devices and services, in accessible content, and in digital literacy."

More than 50 Commissioners and special guests, representing government leaders, heads of international organizations and private sector companies, civil society and academia, affirmed that people-centred solutions must be at the heart of building a sustainable path towards universal broadband.

Commission co-Chair Carlos Slim, Founder of Carlos Slim Foundation and Grupo Carso, added: “To achieve our universal connectivity goal, we need to work together. We need to build a digital future that is inclusive, affordable, safe, sustainable, meaningful and people centred. We need to support infrastructure and to deal with affordability and relevant content to ensure usage. For that to happen, it requires concerted efforts."

Connectivity for sustainable development
The Annual Fall Meeting, held in a virtual format, underscored the need to accelerate digital connectivity to fulfil the United Nations Agenda for 2030, centred on 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“The absence of digital skills remains the largest barrier to Internet use," noted Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and co-Vice Chair of the Commission. “Digital education must therefore be as much about gaining skills as about developing the ability to think critically in order to master the technical aspects and be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood."

“UNESCO's Media and Information Literacy curriculum, launched in Belgrade, Serbia, in April, provided a key tool to boost skills," she added.

A newly released Commission report on distance and hybrid learning cites the need to foster digital skills along with expanding broadband infrastructure.

[Source: ITU]

Digital is the future of urban energy

Cities already account for two-thirds of energy consumption and produce more than 70 per cent of carbon emissions globally every year.

With more than half of all people in the world living in cities, smart urban energy systems are needed to bring climate-damaging emissions down to net-zero in the next few decades.

Digital solutions can help cities reduce emissions and make the transition to clean energy systems, according to the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

By 2050, when almost 70 per cent of the world’s population will be city dwellers, energy will be in even higher demand.

To provide it sustainably, cities will need smart grids and innovative storage that integrate renewable power generation, electrified transport, and efficient heating and cooling, along with climate-safe bioenergy and waste-to-energy solutions.

Bringing all these together will depend on top-to-bottom digitalization of urban energy systems and related services. The IEA report, 'Empowering Cities for a Net Zero Future', based on consultations with over 125 experts, advises pioneering cities on how to ensure a sustainable energy future based on digital technologies.
Building smart grids

Flexible energy systems enable agile responses to real-time situations, balancing demand and supply throughout the day. Smart grids with real-time monitoring and predictive analytics can offer reduced peak loads, better integrate renewables at lower costs and minimize pressure on aging grid infrastructure.

Smart grids will be crucial to address global warming by reducing carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions. Direct access to data, meanwhile, empowers consumers to manage their energy consumption and costs.

In the United Arab Emirates, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) says it has installed a local smart grid that enables "automated decision-making and interoperability across the entire electricity and water network."

By 2050, digitalization and smart controls can reduce CO2 emissions from buildings by 350 million tonnes, the IEA estimates.

Heating, air conditioning, motion sensors, ventilation and other data can encourage more efficient energy use. For instance, appliances can be operated when solar and wind power are active.

Electric vehicles (EVs) can be charged overnight, when electricity demand is lower, or when solar photovoltaic (PV) production exceeds other demand. Crucially, plugged-in EVs can also add energy storage capacity to the whole system.
Connected mobility

Electrification of transport and widespread EV use will help to scale up renewable energy sources through smart charging and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) systems that adapt charging rates to power availability and sometimes even return power to the grid.

People who hesitate to adopt EVs could be reassured by real-time data on costs and the availability of charging points.

Smart mobility applications can help residents pick modes of transport, including public transit and shared schemes, with more awareness about lowering emissions.

In Lathi, Finland, a mobile app shows the different transport options available and their respective carbon emissions. Virtual credits awarded for a low footprint can then be used to purchase city services and products.
Standards for climate-safe cities

Harmonized international standards can enable the interoperability of smart energy solutions as well as ensure data privacy, grid stability and cybersecurity, the IEA report affirms.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) already work together closely on standards development through their joint smart city task force.

Innovators aiming for system-level harmonization can look to smart city standards like ITU Y.4459, “Digital entity architecture framework for Internet of Things interoperability”, developed by ITU-T Study Group 20 (Internet of Things and smart cities and communities).

Key Performance Indicators for Smart Sustainable Cities – prepared by the United for Smart Sustainable Cities Initiative based on an ITU standard aligned with UN Sustainable Development Goals (ITU Y.4903/L.1603) – have set a benchmark for best practices and provide a practical framework to assess each city’s progress towards net-zero emissions and digital transformation.

A key standard developed by ITU-T Study Group 5 (Environment, climate change and circular economy) and released last year (ITU L.1470) details the emission-reduction trajectories needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector by 45 per cent between 2020 and 2030.

This is the rate required to meet a key climate goal – limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius during this century, compared to pre-industrial levels, in line with the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

[Source: ITU]

How ITU provides emergency telecommunications in a pandemic

“We have to prepare everything in advance so that when a disaster strikes, the only thing that we have to do is pack the equipment and take it to where it is needed,” explained Jake Spinnler from ITU’s Emergency Telecommunications Division.

Spinnler is part of the ITU Emergency Telecommunications team and currently coordinating ITU’s Emergency Telecommunications Roster (ETR), a voluntary group of ITU staff from across the organization on stand-by to deploy the services on short notice.

“In the last few months, we have been checking and testing the satellite phones and Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) terminals to see if the equipment is complete, if it works correctly or we need to buy spare parts,” added Spinnler, who has been trained to use emergency telecommunications equipment, helping to ensure vital communication networks are maintained during relief efforts.
The year of disasters

Disasters don’t stop during a pandemic. In 2020, 389 disasters impacted 98.4 million people globally.

Additionally, according to the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, extreme weather events that we are facing today – from cyclones in India to devastating floods in China, widespread wildfires in North America and enduring droughts across Africa – are set to continue and worsen in the decades to come.

Telecommunication networks are critical to coordinating relief efforts, but are often destroyed when disaster strikes.

At the request of Member States, in the aftermath of a disaster, ITU deploys temporary information and communication technology (ICT) solutions to help restore telecommunication links needed for response efforts. The ITU ETR is a new addition to this service.

“I have visited nearly all countries in the world, taking this equipment to help them to use it for response coordination efforts and assist in recovery from disasters,” said Maritza Delgado, ITU’s Emergency Telecommunications Programme Officer.

“Sometimes these are the only phones that are available in the disaster zones, and the only channel for organizations to coordinate with different stakeholders in charge of overall disaster management.”

Direct impact on the ground

Although training was largely conducted online during the COVID pandemic – from using the equipment to personal safety training – some aspects still need to be done in person.

To ensure life-saving equipment is in full working order, the ETR team needs to test it regularly. This equipment includes BGAN terminals, Iridium satellite phones and other terminals.

“As a Radiocommunication Engineer, working with these satellite devices is a great opportunity for hands-on experience,” said Veronique Glaude, Senior Radiocommunication Engineer in ITU-R. “This equipment is vital to assist first responders for timely communication and enable them respond to the humanitarian needs of the affected individuals and communities. It is a real honour for me to be part of that process.”

For many ITU staff, being part of the ETR has had a positive impact on their work at ITU.

“One of my roles in ITU is Acting Advisor to ITU-T Study Group 2, which plays a leading role in ITU standards development for disaster relief, early warning, network resilience and recovery. The ETR provides a direct connection between theory and practice,” said Rob Clark, Study Group Project Coordinator in ITU-T.

“Being part of the ETR has enlightened me on the role that ITU is playing alongside its partners in the field of emergency telecoms and disaster relief. It also reminds me of the direct impact of ITU’s work on the ground. This is a useful perspective to incorporate into my ‘day job’ supporting ITU members’ development of international telecommunication standards,” he said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, with in-person deployments suspended due to travel restrictions, ITU strengthened partnerships with satellite providers to provide the necessary connectivity and equipment.

These partnerships ensured that ITU could continue to support countries in the aftermath of disasters.

[Source: ITU]

T-Mobile confirmed latest data breach affecting millions of customers

US telecom giant T-Mobile has confirmed their latest data breach affecting nearly 8 million customers was accessed by a hacker, totaling five breaches in the last four years.

Their preliminary analysis showed that almost 8 million current postpaid customers and 40 million records of former or prospective customers, who had at one point applied for credit with the company, were taken in a 'highly sophisticated cyberattack.'

The latest in the series of hacks on the company's customers' data comes on the heels of two attacks in 2020, one in 2019, and another in 2018. This most recent breach is by far the largest.

News broke that a hacker was trying to sell T-Mobile customer data online, data they claimed to have gotten via compromised T-Mobile servers. They claimed the data contained names, addresses, social security numbers (SSN), driver license information, phone numbers and unique IMEI numbers.

CISA Announces Renewal of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management Task Force

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) announced the extension of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) Task Force to July 31, 2023.
The Task Force, chaired by CISA and the Information Technology (IT) and Communications Sector Coordinating Councils, is a public-private partnership composed of a diverse range of representatives from large and small private sector organizations charged with identifying challenges and devising workable solutions and recommendations for managing risks to the global ICT supply chain.
In January, the Task Force was extended for six months, allowing for continued progress by its working groups (WGs) and the launch of three new WG efforts to develop products, tools, and analysis to enhance ICT supply chain resilience. As a result, the latest Threat Scenarios Report (Version 3) and newly created ICT Supply Chain Resource Library are now available for use.
Under the newly signed charter,  the Task Force will continue and conclude ongoing efforts such as the release of two additional products, which includes a report focused on liability protections for the private sector when sharing supply chain risk information, and a guide that will help small and medium-sized businesses better understand and manage their ICT SCRM needs to mitigate the effects in the event of a cyber incident. The Task Force will also continue to explore means for building partnerships, develop new resources, and collectively enhance ICT supply chain resilience.
“As recent events have shown, the need for safe and secure ICT supply chains is critical to our American way of life,” said Bob Kolasky, CISA Assistant Director and Task Force Co-Chair. “Securing our nation’s supply chains requires a team approach, with all of us playing an essential role in addressing its unique challenges. Renewing the charter for two years will ensure the Task Force has the support and flexibility needed to address critical supply chain issues and build a collective defense from future supply chain threats.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the already complex and pervasive threats to the global ICT supply chains, making the Task Force’s mission as essential as ever to U.S. economic and national security,” said John Miller, Senior Vice President of Policy and General Counsel at the Information Technology Industry Council and Co-Chair of the Task Force. “By leveraging premier public and private sector expertise, the Task Force has been able to advance actionable solutions on challenging issues to better mitigate supply chain risks. We are pleased the extension of the Task Force’s charter clears the way for its critical mission to move ahead, and we look forward to continuing to help lead this important partnership on behalf of the entire tech industry.”
“The global supply chain faces unprecedented threats strained by the pandemic and unceasing attacks by cyber criminals and nation-states. Government and private industry working separately on these challenges won’t be nearly as successful as a dedicated, integrated partnership that coordinates supply chain activity across the entire government and various industry sectors,” said Robert Mayer, Senior Vice President of Cybersecurity and Innovation at USTelecom, and Task Force Co-Chair. “That’s what the Task force is all about, and where our ability to rapidly convene and engage industry experts on COVID supply chain disruptions, White House Executive Orders, and mitigation from the Solar Winds hack has been so impactful. As we enter the third year, we’re committed to developing products and tools, including for small and medium-sized businesses in the ICT ecosystem, to build a stronger and more resilient supply chain.”

Telcos strengthen India’s disaster preparedness

When Cyclone Tauktae struck India’s western coastal areas several months ago, it brought mass destruction of property and disrupted daily life in five Indian states.
Despite the storm’s ‘extremely severe’ designation, the damage and loss of lives were less than expected. This was thanks in large part to national disaster preparation plans, underpinned by information and communication technologies (ICTs) and timely preparation by telecom operators.
Technology plays a pivotal role at each stage of disaster management, from early warning and mitigation to response, and then to post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation.
Collaborative action on the ground
To prepare for the upcoming disaster, the Indian government had already implemented standard operating procedures (SOPs), whereby telecom operators initiated inter-operator roaming services that let mobile phone users switch easily between networks based on availability.
Priority call routing enabled rescue and relief crews to coordinate with government officials, including in the vital restoration work in Tauktae’s aftermath.
On-site diesel and battery back-up were ready to mitigate any power cuts, while coordination was stepped up with the National Disaster Management Authority, the National Disaster Relief Force, and central, state and local governments.
Challenges for operators during disasters
Telecom and ICT operators form the backbone of connectivity across the world. But ICT services can be hard to maintain – let alone expand – during earthquakes, tsunamis or a pandemic.
Natural hazards often damage towers, power generators, cables and wires. At the same time, network congestion arises as people call family and friends, frequently hampering rescue and relief operations.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, telecom and Internet usage have surged everywhere.
Meanwhile, with shops closed, pre-paid mobile consumers could not recharge their credit.
Still, telecom operators maintained the continuity of services and facilitated online recharges for pre-paid users.
By the time of the May 2021 cyclone, lessons from both before and during the pandemic, had made India’s telecom networks more robust and resilient, with sufficient adaptability and scalability to handle demand spikes.
How operators can prepare
Access to robust and secure ICT infrastructure is critical. Putting resilient networks and disaster management tools in place well ahead of time helps to mitigate negative impacts.
Wherever feasible, telecom operators must upgrade to 4G or 5G, as well as educate staff and raise awareness among customers on how to withstand disaster situations, including recharging subscriptions online with mobile devices.
Inter-operator roaming agreements can ensure continuous service for all customers in a disaster-affected area, even if the infrastructure of one or two operators suffers damage. Along with temporary solutions like CoW, operators can turn to satellite-based plug-and-play networks to stand in for damaged terrestrial infrastructure.

EU mobilises planes to tackle forest fires

Turkey, ravaged by unprecedented forest fires, activated the EU Civil Protection Mechansim. In an immediate response, the European Commission has already helped mobilise 1 Canadair plane from Croatia and 2 Canadairs from Spain. These firefighting aeroplanes are part of rescEU, the European reserve of civil protection assets.
Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič said: "The EU stands in full solidarity with Turkey at this very difficult time. I thank all the countries which have offered help. Our thoughts are with the Turkish people who have lost their loved ones and with the brave first responders who are doing their best to battle the deadly fires. We stand ready to provide further assistance."
In response to Italy's request for assistance through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to help in the fight against the ongoing wildfires in Sardinia, the EU is mobilising immediate support from France and Greece.
France and Greece are deploying two aerial forest firefighting planes (Canadair) each. The planes offered by France come from the European Civil Protection Pool, whereas the ones offered by Greece are part of the rescEU assets.
The wildfires have hit the area of Montiferru, in the centre-west of the island following high temperatures. Initial reports indicate that over 4,000 hectares have been burnt and 355 people evacuated.
The European Union's 24/7 Emergency Response Coordination Centre is in regular contact with the Turkish authorities to closely monitor the situation and channe the EU assistance.

Agencies Should Strengthen Collaborative Mechanisms and Processes to Address Potential Interference

In the U.S., the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration regulate radio-frequency spectrum use to ensure enough is available for 5G networks, satellites, etc. when there could be interference, FCC and NTIA coordinate with other federal agencies via interagency agreements and groups.
To address potential interference among proposed uses of spectrum, these agencies employ various coordination mechanisms. For domestic matters, the agencies coordinate through an NTIA-led committee that provides input to FCC’s spectrum proceedings. For U.S. participation in the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC), agencies coordinate via a preparatory committee that provides input used to develop U.S. positions that the Department of State submits to a regional body or directly to the WRC.
These mechanisms reflect some key collaboration practices but do not fully reflect others. For example, while the documents that guide coordination between FCC and NTIA and the preparatory committee emphasize reaching consensus whenever possible, there are no clearly defined and agreed-upon processes for resolving matters when agencies cannot do so. Additionally, neither document has been updated in almost 20 years, though agency officials said conditions regarding spectrum management activities have changed in that time. GAO’s review of U.S. participation in ITU’s 2019 WRC shows that these issues affected collaboration. For example, disputes among the agencies and the inability to reach agreement on U.S. technical contributions challenged the U.S.’s ability to present an agreed-upon basis for decisions or a unified position.
NOAA and NASA conduct and FCC and NTIA review technical interference studies on a case-by-case basis. When originating from ITU activities, the agencies conduct or review technical interference studies through participation in international technical meetings and the preparatory committee process. However, the lack of consensus on study design and, within the U.S. process, specific procedures to guide the design of these types of studies, hampered U.S. efforts to prepare for the 2019 WRC. For example, the U.S. did not submit its studies on certain key issues to the final technical meeting, resulting in some stakeholders questioning whether the corresponding U.S. positions were technically rooted. Agreed-upon procedures could help guide U.S. efforts to design these studies and consider tradeoffs between what is desirable versus practical, to mitigate the possibility of protracted disagreements in the future.

CISA and FBI Launch Operation Flashpoint to Raise Awareness about How to Prevent Bomb Making

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced a new pilot program called “Operation Flashpoint” to build awareness in communities across the U.S. about how to prevent bomb attacks.
At the pilot’s launch today at Revell Ace Hardware in Clinton, Miss., CISA and FBI officials highlighted the threat posed by domestic violent extremists and others who can build improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from common household items found at retail stores across the country. Approximately 250,000 businesses in the U.S. sell, use or distribute materials that can be used to build bombs.
IEDs pose a significant threat in the U.S. In 2020 alone, there were 2,061 total bomb threat, suspicious package and device-related incidents across the nation, according to CISA’s Office for Bombing Prevention TRIPwire report. Major bombings can cause mass casualty events and cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more.
The 90-day Operation Flashpoint pilot, which will include events in other cities including Columbia, S.C.; Louisville, Ky.; and Orlando/Tampa, Fla., encourages businesses and the public to voluntarily report suspicious activities, such as buying large amounts of chemicals and materials (or a combination of these) that can be used to build bombs.
“Operation Flashpoint is a major milestone in implementing U.S. policy to thwart bomb threats,” said Dr. David Mussington, Executive Assistant Director for CISA’s Infrastructure Security Division. “It shows the strong unity in the federal government, between the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, to safeguard citizens and critical infrastructure.”

Digital regulators need to collaborate to “build forward better” after COVID

​​​​​​​​Bold regulatory approaches are needed to guide ground-breaking technology uptake, foster collaboration, and drive digital transformation in the post-COVID world, according to participants at the latest Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR-21) organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The meetings brought together regulators from around the world to tackle the persistent, growing, global digital divide. In part, this involved adopting new guidelines for inclusive information and communication technology (ICT) regulation to “build forward better" and drive post-COVID recovery.
“Following the global social and economic disruption brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, regulators have a unique opportunity to rethink and reshape policy principles and regulatory best practices to build ubiquitous, open and resilient digital infrastructure," said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.
Focus on holistic digital transformation
COVID-19 has prompted countries to seek more holistic, future-ready agendas for digital transformation. Accordingly, regulators discussed the need for collaborative leadership to ensure trust in the digital space; sufficient connectivity and regulatory enablers; financing to ensure affordable connectivity, meaningful access, and widespread use; safe digital inclusion; and partnerships for digital transformation.
“Effective regulation matters not just in times of crisis," said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau. “To build forward better in the post-COVID digital world, we need agile and ground-breaking approaches and tools for digital regulation to accelerate the sustainable and inclusive growth of ICTs. Connectivity, access and use are ultimately at the heart of the digital transformation. Along with fit-for-purpose regulatory approaches, these are the predominant enablers of competitiveness and key to the future prosperity of people, communities, countries and regions everywhere."
New GSR-21 Best Practice Guidelines
Innovative tools and approaches are outlined in the newly released GSR-21 Best Practice Guidelines: Regulatory uplift for financing digital infrastructure, access and use. ​
Approaches to ICT regulation need to be globally consistent yet flexible, allowing each national framework to be tailored to meet local needs, regulators taking part in GSR-21 agreed.
Mercy Wanjau, Acting Director-General of the Communications Authority of Kenya and Chair of GSR-21, said: “The regulatory Best Practice Guidelines crafted and adopted by regulators and policy makers at GSR have been guiding all of us through challenges and new endeavours. I call upon regulators everywhere to leverage the GSR-21 Guidelines in adopting and implementing globally agreeable approaches that are relevant to their national circumstances and leverage collaboration across the board."
The guidelines emphasise the need for a collaborative, whole-of-government approach to regulation, focusing particularly on the role of effective and agile financing, prototyping regulatory patterns and approaches, and transformational leadership, to drive faster and more inclusive connectivity and ensure safe digital inclusion for all in the wake of the pandemic.
Key recommendations include:
- Alternative mechanisms for funding and financing digital infrastructures across economic sectors. Regulators should encourage investment and help to create competitive markets for future-proof broadband and digital services. Investment is also needed in non-commercial areas to make digital services available and affordable for all, while ensuring that basic regulatory needs are met.
- Promotion of local innovation ecosystems that enable the development of emerging technologies and business models. Regulators must create a safe space for digital innovation and experimentation. New approaches to regulation should protect consumers while encouraging market growth and ensuring resilience in future networks and services.
- Spectrum innovation and efficient use. New approaches may be needed to enhance regulatory foresight, harness data to target interventions, and create space for regulators and industry to experiment together. Spectrum innovation is just one such example.
- Ambitious yet executable regulatory roadmaps. The proposed best practices from GSR 21, if widely adopted, could help countries leapfrog ahead in economic development, maximize the benefits of ICT uptake, and ensure that these immense opportunities reach everyone.
In addition to the GSR-21 Best Practice Guidelines, GSR-21 saw the release of several new publications and platforms​:  Financing Universal Access to Digital Technologies and Services, Econometric Modelling in the context of COVID-19, collaborative case studies, and ICT Regulatory Tracker 2020​.
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