Since 2016, the ESCAP secretariat has been promoting the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative (AP-IS). As a region-wide intergovernmental platform, AP-IS aims to bridge the digital divide and accelerate digital transformation by promoting digital connectivity, digital technology and data use in the Asia Pacific region.
In particular, this AP-IS platform:
- promotes regional policy dialogues and consultations toward a regional seamless information and communication space;
- mobilizes cooperation and partnerships for addressing digital divide and digital connectivity infrastructure;
- shares knowledge, policy, technology and good practices;
- conducts analytical research and survey;
- supports capacity building of member States through North-South and South-South cooperation.
The AP-IS and COVID-19
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with economic, social and environmental uncertainties, has brought to worsened digital divides and development inequalities in the Asia-Pacific region. While the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic vary within and across countries in the region, a common feature of the regional experience is that digital readiness, universal broadband connectivity and digital capacity have played key roles in monitoring and containing the contagion, mitigating the devastating socio-economic impacts, and preparing for building back better with enhanced resilience.
Therefore, the pandemic has enhanced digitalization as one top policy agenda of member States in the region to address unprecedented socio-economic lockdowns within and between countries – including movement restrictions of goods and people, closure of schools, suspension of air travel, interruption of trade, job losses and social disruptions. As an essential component to enable digital connectivity and transformation, the availability of meaningful and affordable access to broadband Internet have emerged as urgent and important tasks.
Not only digital transformation in the country level, but also regional digital connectivity for cooperation and joint actions across countries appears as a critically important agenda. Digitalization provides new ways to connect, transact and educate, but it also carries risks, resulting in worsened digital divides and development inequalities if member countries are not equipped with ICT infrastructure and capacity. Without regional digital connectivity and cooperation among countries through intergovernmental cooperative mechanisms, the efforts to gap the digital divide and to promote digital transformation cannot be fully exploited and realized. It is therefore important to bridge the digital divide and to promote digital transformation through a regional cooperative mechanism, such as the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway, which provides all the necessary intergovernmental dialogues and tools to strengthen cooperation and enhance digital connectivity within and across the region.
The way forward: AP-IS Action Plan (2022-2026)
Member States at the third session of the Committee on Information and Communications Technology, Science, Technology and Innovation in August 2020 requested the ESCAP secretariat to establish a drafting group to develop an action plan for the next phase of implementation of the Master Plan for AP-IS for 2022–2026 (2nd action plan). The action plan for implementation of the AP-IS (2022-2026) will contribute to member States as a regional blueprint for cooperative actions and a guide for promoting digital connectivity and transformation towards digital economy. The ESCAP secretariat is currently developing a draft AP-IS action plan (2022-2026) in collaboration with partner organizations. The final draft action plan will be reported to the 5th AP-IS Steering Committee in 2021 and the Committee on Information and Communications Technology, Science, Technology and Innovation in 2022 for consideration and adoption.
Addition information on the AP-IS Drafting Group Meeting can be accessed through the following link:
Second Meeting of the Drafting Group for Developing the AP-IS Action Plan 2022-2026 on 29 September 2021.
The AP-IS Master Plan 2019-2022 (ESCAP/75/INF/5) identified the following four thematic pillars below. Please also refer to the annual reports of the AP-IS Steering Committee meetings through the following links:
- 1st SC of AP-IS (2017)
- 2nd SC of AP-IS (2018)
- 3rd SC of AP-IS (2019)
- 4th SC of AP-IS (2020)
- 5th SC of AP-IS (2021)
- 6th SC of AP-IS (2022)
- 7th SC of AP-IS (2023)
AP-IS has cooperated with the Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development (APCICT) of ESCAP in Korea and the Asia Pacific Center for Technology Transfer (APCTT) of ESCAP in India. They provide member States with capacity-building assistance on sharing of policies and practices on information and communications technology. In addition, the ICT and DRR Gateway, as an interactive web platform, also provides a range of policies, programmes and knowledge tools for member States.