Asia and the Pacific has been going through a fundamental transformation induced by digital technology and connectivity. The region has been a driving force of such digital transformation - be it artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, cloud computing or blockchain. Mobile payment technologies have been accelerating financial inclusion deep into remote and rural areas, while AI, IoT and Big Data analytics have been revolutionizing healthcare, infrastructure and building maintenance, disaster risk mitigation and preparedness efforts while increasing agricultural productivity. They are also used for business analytics, new product development, industrial Internet, smart logistics among others, which are deemed to shape future competitiveness of economies across the globe.
Digital technology and connectivity have been proven effective in addressing some of the negative consequences of Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemics. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has been causing cascading economic and social stress across the world. The production of goods and services has decreased in some countries, while an increasing number of economies are feared to go in recession, with rising unemployment rates. More schools are closed, and hospitals overcrowded with dwindling medical supplies. In combating the adverse effects of COVID-19 and enhancing societal and economic resilience, digital technology and connectivity have emerged as an essential tool and alternative to the physical equivalent.
Unsurprisingly, this resilience is observed mainly among the advanced economies where enabling digital infrastructure and ecosystem already exist. It has accentuated the fact that the multi-facetted digital gaps between advanced economies and developing countries are widening even further. What does this mean for developing countries which have been catching up with mobile and fixed broadband technologies, networks and access? What are the accelerated pathways for their digital transformation, while advancing digital inclusion to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in the region? The answer may lie in how we expand connectivity to the unconnected and address the perennial issue of last mile connectivity.