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The world has been hit by an unimaginable impasse. The coronavirus or COVID-19 has irrevocably transformed lives and industries in the most startling ways. The pandemic has directly resulted in the near-complete shutdown of all social and economic activity across the globe. Considering that there is no modern precedent to such a catastrophe in existence that can inform us of what lies ahead, the road to recovery will undoubtedly be a long and arduous one. Even with the inevitable risks and damages the pandemic has caused to major industries, the communications sector has managed to overcome these hurdles and has continued to remain relevant during this period.

At a time when sharing a meal with a colleague or going for coffee with friends could put you at risk of an infection, the communications industry, specifically telecom operators, have stepped up to the challenge by continuing to connect families, communities and businesses virtually. For many of us, this could be considered a new market reality, and this is where telecom operators will shine the most doing what they do best. In this instance, they are spearheading the effort towards working from home/remote working, online learning and virtual business continuation.

At the beginning of the crisis, operators were focused mainly on preserving crucial fixed, mobile and TV infrastructures. These operations were not easy to conduct either way as the operators themselves had to worry about coping with their own employees working remotely. As such, many telcos were forced to move a large portion of their customer service centres to a home environment and still be able to operate their businesses in a seamless and uninterrupted way.

Despite these challenges, telcos worldwide have undergone a metamorphosis of sorts over the past few months; the complete reorganisation and remodelling of how their companies will run during a global crisis.  The total revamp of the telcos’ core infrastructures within a short amount of time has highlighted the resilience and robustness of the industry and, additionally, has showcased how these companies have used these qualities to give back to the community in times of need.

In the United Kingdom, telcos support their national healthcare system (NHS) and government agencies by supplying field hospitals with high speed connectivity, devices, and other tools to assist in the treatment of patients and vaccine research virus. They also provide information and data on population movement to combat the rapid spread of the virus in countries and areas that are severely affected. Companies such as BT, Virgin Media, Tesco Mobile, Three, O2 and Sky are just a few of the telcos that have agreed to support the NHS in these ways.

“We know how hard NHS staff are working at the moment and we want to help keep the frontline staff connected. This is a way to show our appreciation for the remarkable job they’re doing to help the nation. We hope that providing increased connectivity will allow them to continue their incredible efforts – we really can’t thank them enough,” said Tom Denyard, CEO of Tesco Mobile.

When it comes to the education sector, telcos have also increased network capacity by almost 50% to bolster distance learning systems in order to connect teachers and students via virtual classrooms. Major telecommunications conglomerates in the United States such as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are providing free broadband and WiFi access to households with college students for the next 2 months. Additionally, these telcos have collaborated with schools in their district to ensure that students are constantly kept up to date with their lessons and not get left behind.

In March, the US’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC) introduced the “Keep America Connected” initiative, calling for telcos and ISPs to waive late fees for customers who are unable to pay their bills and withhold from terminating their Internet connection during these uncertain times. “As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical, and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected.  Broadband will enable them to communicate with their loved ones and doctors, telework, ensure their children can engage in remote learning, and—importantly—take part in the ‘social distancing’ that will be so critical to limiting the spread of this novel coronavirus,” said Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman.

In the Asia Pacific region, telecoms giants like Digi in Malaysia and StarHub in Singapore are also lending a helping hand to its respective communities to ease their burdens during the pandemic. In April, Digi launched its first Yellow Heart crowdfunding campaign to collect funds supporting healthcare workers and other frontliners combatting COVID-19. In partnership with the Malaysian Ministry of Health, the initiative urges Digi customers to contribute to the cause which they can do conveniently over the MyDigi app. All proceeds of the campaign will go towards purchasing vital medical equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies needed by hospitals across Malaysia in fighting the pandemic.

On the other hand, StarHub extended its support for the migrant community in Singapore, many of whom are forced to isolate alone in a foreign country without having their families there with them. Free calls to their loved ones back home, public donations and even a mental health safety message broadcasted in seven different languages are just some of the ways StarHub is giving back to those in need in the middle of the crisis.

Veronica Lai, CCO of StarHub said, “During these challenging times, we empathise with the prolonged isolation and despair of the workers confined in dormitories and community facilities. We want to use what we do best – our connectivity, products and technology – to shrink the distance between the workers and their loved ones, and to enhance quality of health care and emotional support for them. We are delighted to work with likeminded partners from the government ministries and non-profit organisations (NPOs) to reach out and help alleviate the hardships.”

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