Advancing Investment in Infrastructure for the Digital Economy

  • world economic forumDelivering Digital Infrastructure: Advancing the Internet Economy, a World Economic Forum report, examines the technological, commercial and policy challenges associated with digital infrastructure
  • Recommendations address spectrum availability, IP interconnection disputes, and policies and regulations
  • For more information on the report and the Forum’s Delivering Digital Infrastructure initiative, click here

New York, USA, 29 April 2014 – The World Economic Forum released today a new report that examines the long-term growth of the digital economy and the viability of the infrastructure that supports it.

The report, Delivering Digital Infrastructure: Advancing the Internet Economy, produced in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group, focuses on current threats to digital infrastructure – including fixed and mobile internet infrastructure, telecommunications equipment and devices, and cloud infrastructure – in the United States, Europe and emerging markets.

“Infrastructure does not get built without foresight, planning, investment and innovation,” said Alan Marcus, Senior Director, Head of Information Technology and Telecommunications Industries, World Economic Forum. “As more people and businesses come online, and more companies invent more ways to serve their needs, the volume of digital traffic will continue to grow exponentially. Can the infrastructure that we all now count on to carry all this traffic keep up? Who is responsible for making sure that it does?”

The report provides recommendations to grow investment in digital infrastructure in several geographies. US policy-makers should encourage the innovations taking place in local markets to heighten competition and investment, and to help the US remain a world leader in the digital market. Europe’s “digital health”, on the other hand is in particularly need of attention. According to the report, without a single digital market and greater infrastructure investment, it is difficult to see the EU capitalizing fully on the benefits of the internet economy.

Two critical technical issues are examined in the report: spectrum availability for mobile communications and disputes over IP interconnection agreements which route traffic among the networks that make up the internet. These agreements have come under increasing pressure as the volume of data traffic, especially video, grows significantly.

The report urges governments to make more spectrum available for mobile uses and that all players take steps to improve spectral efficiency. It also identifies areas of common ground among those on differing sides of the IP interconnection debate and suggests a path towards resolving these disputes. In addition, the report assesses how policy and regulation can better keep up with the rapid digital advancement across multiple economic sectors.

“A key underlying premise of our work is that communication service providers and content providers face a mutually dependent future,” said Sunil Bharti Mittal, Founder and Chairman, Bharti Enterprises, India. “Digital services depend on infrastructure for delivery and infrastructure depends on digital services to drive demand for connectivity.”

The report also discusses the need for national economies to develop efficient digital services sectors and the role governments can play in helping to create environments that nurture such development.

“Governments especially need to recognize the economic and social benefits of digital connectivity and services,” said Jon Fredrik Baksaas, President and Chief Executive Officer, Telenor Group. “They can help to create environments in which dynamic digital economies can flourish by taking a long-term view and adopting a forward-looking approach to policy and regulation, ensuring incentives for investments.”

Delivering Digital Infrastructure is the result of a World Economic Forum cross-industry initiative. It provides a venue for industry-shaping discussions on strategy, innovation, market structure, regulation and business models. To this end, the Forum has organized multistakeholder regional meetings and workshops, and conducted individual interviews. Through those discussions, and with the help of a steering committee and a working group drawn from leading companies of the industry – including AT&T, Baidu, Bharti Airtel, Huawei, Liberty Global, Microsoft, Qualcomm,, and Telefonica  – key challenges were analysed and recommendations proposed.

The report is part of the World Economic Forum’s series on the Hyperconnected World, a platform that helps to understand and manage the social, economic and political consequences of digital technology. Other reports by the World Economic Forum in this series include: Global Information Technology Report 2014 and Rethinking Personal Data: A New Lens for Strengthening Trust.