World Bank grants $20m to improve access to high-speed internet in Palestine

The project will also help in developing e-government services in selected areas, lender says

epa09099291 Palestinians ride a motorcycle cart amid the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic in Gaza City on, 26 March 2021. The Ministry of Interior in Gaza City announced new measures on 24 March 2021, as coronavirus cases increase.  EPA/MOHAMMED SABER

The World Bank approved a grant of $20 million to improve access to high-speed broadband services in Palestinian territories.

The move will enable the development of various electronic government services and help the economy recover from coronavirus-induced shocks.

The Digital West Bank and Gaza Project will allow the use of e-services and help people conduct business online, the Washington lender said.

“In a context of restrictions on the movement and access of goods and people exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, the potential of the digital economy to thrive despite these constraints makes it a promising area for economic development and high-end jobs,” said Kanthan Shankar, World Bank country director for the West Bank and Gaza.

While the potential is huge for the tech-savvy young population, it will also help bridge the digital gender divide in times of movement restrictions and social distancing

“While the potential is huge for the tech-savvy young population, it will also help bridge the digital gender divide in times of movement restrictions and social distancing.”

The pandemic has prompted developing countries to invest in digital technology as social distancing measures disrupt businesses and daily life.

In the medium term, countries with high internet connectivity could mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic by up to 50 per cent, according to a report by the International Telecommunication Union.

The report highlighted the digital divide as a critical barrier to the mitigation value of digitisation.

In particular, populations unserved or underserved by broadband cannot benefit from distance learning for children, telecommuting and access to e-commerce and healthcare information, the report said.

Due to restrictions on frequencies, the Palestinian territories were among the last in the Mena region to unveil 3G services in 2018.

Gaza still has 2G and the coverage is the lowest in the region, according to the World Bank. The new project aims to expand access to digital connectivity by supporting the development of fibre-optic infrastructure.

It will also help create an enabling policy environment for the telecoms sector, the lender said.

“For Palestinians, particularly those living in remote areas, digital access to public services will increase efficiency and meet the needs of individuals and businesses,” said Jerome Bezzina, senior digital development specialist and co-task team leader for the project.

The World Bank project will adopt a phased approach, starting with technical assistance to help the Ministry of Telecoms and Information Technology identify the optimal models for purchasing internet bandwidth and broadband services.

The Washington lender will then finance the purchase of bandwidth to selected post offices that could serve as digital access points.

The project will also explore additional options for financial sustainability through a feasibility study. It will seek to align with donors to support digital transformation in Palestinian territories.

It will also support the introduction of e-government services through a unified portal and emergency response centre for incidents across the West Bank.

“The new project favours a citizen-centric service delivery model. As a start, it will develop selected e-services and ensure citizen engagement through multichannel feedback mechanisms,” said Mr Bezzina.

The World Bank will help strengthen the enabling legal and regulatory environment to deliver government-to-citizen and government-to-business e-services.

The project will also finance the first phase of an e-government procurement system in high-spending government agencies.