Boosting digital infrastructure key to Covid-19 recovery: ADB

Policy support on multiple fronts, from improving the digital infrastructure to digitization of customs clearance, can unlock the potential gains from the digital economy and provide new growth opportunities for all businesses, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report.

The flagship ADB publication “Asian Economic Integration Report 2021” stressed that digital connectivity offers vast opportunities for developing countries to participate in international trade and move up the value chain.

Digital connectivity can also contribute to inclusive and sustainable development and spur post-pandemic recovery, said the report released February 10.

The paper thus called on governments in the region to improve digital infrastructure and connectivity to deliver affordable mobile and broadband services and expand broadband internet access and coverage.

“Digital inclusion is crucial for technology and digital platforms to reach all countries and all levels of society. The key is to invest in digital infrastructure and connectivity to broaden physical access to mobile and internet networks and enhance access to education, markets, and other economic opportunities.”

This should be complemented by continued digitization of customs clearance and border procedures, along with broadening access to safe and secure digital financial services, the report said.

At the same time, appropriate policies and regulations must be put in place to manage undue advantage and unfair disruptions posed by the emergence of digital platforms.

To accelerate digital transformation while managing the risks effectively, governments should promote fair competition and improve ease-of-doing business processes. They should promote interoperability across platforms to help market players collaborate and innovate to the benefit of consumers.

The report recommends that policymakers be flexible when setting policies and regulations, and work together with the private sector to build open and innovative ecosystems for platform businesses.

“Policies that support innovation-driven entrepreneurship can also nurture platforms and ecosystems for platform-based businesses,” it added.

More importantly, governments need to build relationships with various actors involved in creating, diffusing, and utilizing the innovation, data, and services from digital platforms.

“Coordination is critical to avoid confusion. A responsive information dissemination system can also play a pivotal role in helping micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises understand the rapidly changing digital landscape, reduce costs, and increase market reach,” it pointed out.

There should likewise be policies geared at enhancing labor security and social protection measures to align with digital jobs.

“As traditional labor relations and conditions no longer apply to digital platforms, online workers are often classified as contractors or self-employed, leaving them without social protection benefits,” the report noted.

“Thus, it is important to create a social protection system that is inclusive and universal, portable, linked to other initiatives, and digitally enabled.”

The report also emphasized the need to focus on data privacy and security, underlining the importance of ensuring that regulations foster greater transparency in using, sharing, and creating value from data.

“It is crucial to uphold data privacy, while ensuring that access to data and information is secure and not used to discriminate against specific groups, and that benefits are fairly and broadly distributed,” said ADB.

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