Jerusalem24 – The World Bank approved yesterday a grant of $20 million to increase access to high-speed broadband services in selected Palestinian areas and enable the development of selected e-government services, according to a World Bank press release.
The Digital West Bank & Gaza Project will contribute to socio-economic recovery and enhance resilience to shocks, such as the COVID-19 crisis, by allowing people to connect to the internet, access e-services, and conduct business online, it said.
“In a context of restrictions on movement and access of goods and people exacerbated even more 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. 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,” said Kanthan Shankar, World Bank Country Director for West Bank and Gaza.
Due to restrictions on frequencies, the Palestinian territories were among the last places in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region to launch 3G in 2018 (still 2G in Gaza) and the population coverage is lowest in the region. The new project aims to expand access to digital connectivity by supporting the development of fiberoptic infrastructure in line with the recent Palestinian cabinet decision to create the National Fiberoptic Company. It will also help to create an enabling policy environment for the telecommunications sector by supporting the operationalization of the telecom regulator, the Palestinian Telecommunications and Information Technology Regulatory Authority.
The project adopts a phased approach to ensure sustainability of results, starting with technical assistance to help the Ministry of Telecom and Information Technology identify the optimal models for purchasing internet bandwidth and broadband services. It will finance the purchase of bandwidth to selected post offices that could serve as digital access points. The ministry will then finance half of the total cost required but the project will explore additional options for financial sustainability through a feasibility study. It will also seek to align with interested donor partners to support digital transformation.
“For Palestinians, particularly those living in remote areas, digital access to public services will increase efficiency and meet the needs of individuals and businesses. The new project favors a citizen-centric service delivery model. As a start, it will develop selected e-services and ensure citizen engagement through multi-channel feedback mechanisms”, said Jerome Bezzina, Senior Digital Development Specialist and co-Task Team Leader for the project.
The project will support the introduction of several citizen-centric e-government services that will be accessible to the public through a unified portal and a digital technology-enabled Emergency Response Center to incidents across the West Bank.
It will further finance the strengthening of the enabling legal and regulatory environment necessary to deliver government-to-citizen and government-to-business e-services. At present, elements such as laws on access to information, protection of personal data, cybersecurity, and digital signatures are missing. This is in addition to financing the first phase of developing an e-government procurement system in high spending government agencies