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Straight Talk Service Provider

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The evolving COVID-19 crisis has led to unprecedented times in the telecoms sector, not least because there is increasing pressure on networks after more people were confined to their homes. What this pandemic drastically shows is how vital broadband connectivity has become, and it is certainly, an essential resource fundamental in supporting society. Concerns over network capacity have so far proven to be unsubstantiated though. With the support of regulators, ISPs have been able to handle increasing demand on their networks during the COVID-19 crisis.

As indicated in the Telecoms Regulation COVID-19 Tracker (Figure 1), regulators and governments around the world have been responding to the pandemic by introducing a range of regulatory measures and have had to be quick in their response. This shows that when put under pressure, innovative regulatory initiatives can be implemented quickly to respond to market developments. From creative examples of temporary spectrum licensing to quickly cope with unprecedent traffic levels, through to changes in payment conditions, measures to support vulnerable customers and the refinement of traffic management policies, as well as data privacy policy changes, which see unprecedented powers to utilize geolocation data to track confirmed virus carriers. More than half of the policies issued worldwide have focused on three key topic areas: supporting vulnerable customers, data protection regarding tracking apps and maintaining connectivity.

Figure 1: Publicly announced telecoms regulatory initiatives to address COVID-19 pandemic by topic as a percentage of total announcements

Publicly announced telecoms regulatory initiatives to address COVID-19 pandemic by topic as a percentage of total announcements

Source: Omdia

 

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses and countries get over the peak of infections, more governments will be turning to technology, specifically geo location data to track the progress of the disease, in an effort to allow countries to exit lockdowns while still tackling the virus. Success has been seen in countries across Asia, such as South Korea and Singapore, with many more in Europe starting to look towards app-based contact tracing. However, governments must strike the right balance between data protection, the privacy of an individual, and the needs of society. These apps generate several data protection and privacy concerns so governments must be transparent in the way data is collected and used, as well as how long any data is stored. User consent is crucial too and the decision to track geo location data must be temporary in nature and clearly be defined as an extraordinary case responding to this specific crisis. In this case the public may be more willing to accept the erosion of certain civil liberties, including privacy. Without the temporary nature being clearly outlined; the use of geo-location data might continue even when the crisis is over and could end up violating data protection regulation in the future.

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