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E – Lifeline

The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital transformation and connectivity for Serbia. It also showed that the diligent work of the Ministry of Trade, Tourism, and Telecommunications, as well as other partners in the public and private sector, has paid off

There aren’t many policies (aside from fiscal discipline) that have been subjected to such fierce scrutiny as the long term work of the Ministry of Trade, Tourism, and Telecommunications in the areas of telecommunications and digitalisation. It was a year ago, almost overnight, that everybody shifted their work and life online as much as possible – from the public administration and large public institutions, such as schools, hospitals and social services, to large sectors that were capable of transferring to remote work, small and medium-sized companies that suddenly found themselves ready to enter the waters of e commerce, and ordinary citizens.

This wouldn’t have been conceivable without the adequate infrastructure and long term planning and collaboration. It became evident that inter-sector policies that steered the way to e-government, e-banking and several other e-s, made the lives of businesses and citizens easier than we’d thought. In other words, thanks to a systemic approach to digitalisation in terms of regulatory development, encouraging the development of telecommunications, information security, raising digital skills, developing e-commerce and enabling market liberalisation all paid off – for everything from e- learning to support for vaccination.

The development of broadband is a great opportunity to accelerate economic progress in less developed areas of Serbia

As a result of this, it turned out that most of Serbia had better internet connections than many states with more advanced telecommunication sectors; that the Ministry, in collaboration with other partners, supported the massive shift of both large and small companies to E-commerce, providing a lifeline for many businesses that thought they wouldn’t be able to cope with so many health related restrictions.

Indeed, many loopholes also appeared. One of them is certainly digital illiteracy, both at the level of companies and the public administration, as well as in services and schools. Many business procedures couldn’t be completed entirely online, as some legislation was missing or confusing. And some businesses in areas that had less 4G network coverage felt left behind.

With the current wisdom earned through the tough days of COVID-19, which is still with us, some of the policies envisaged as part of the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans, as well as national polices related to digital transformation, seem to have become even more relevant. This relates to the 5G roadmap to digital transformation, the objective to cover all parts of Serbia with high-speed internet access, including those areas that private operators have no interest in developing, and to dramatically increase digital literacy across sectors and fields of work and life while further boosting ICT capacities and human capital.

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