Policy responses to COVID-19: Repurposing National Highways for Good

COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world to its core. Asia-Pacific leaders are simultaneously struggling to save lives and livelihoods. Working from home, online pedagogy and telemedicine are the new normal. This has exposed the region’s urban-rural digital fault line and fragility of its digital networks. Optical fiber cable (OFC) is the critical element in universal access to broadband. But its deployment is prohibitive due to massive costs (80%) attributed to civil works and payments for rights-of-way. Such investment also takes a much longer time (15 years) to recover. It has led mobile operators to plug their 4G mobile towers with OFC in the urban areas for faster recovery of investments. As a result, the urban-rural gap of broadband has grown, as evidenced during the ongoing pandemic. A reduction of this urban-rural broadband gap is imperative, as education, business and medical care are increasingly going online. But Asia-Pacific governments are not in a position to undertake the massive budgetary commitment of civil construction for the ubiquitous OFC deployment.