Digital infrastructure is a critical component for countries to grow, and achieve economic and industrial development, and is considered a critical pillar for any advanced economy. It plays a central role in enhancing communication, enabling access, and exchanging data leading to economic development, innovation, productivity, job creation, and overall quality of life improvement.
Therefore, KSA Vision 2030 clearly prioritized the development of the digital infrastructure, as it is one of the most important national economic streams, because of its impact on improving quality of life, uplifting education, healthcare, attracting and developing investment, and other services.
The Kingdom's commitment to the development of digital infrastructure was evident and was represented in its efforts to expand network coverage, improve quality of communication, and stimulate investment, by creating the appropriate regulatory environment and support, building effective partnerships with service providers, supporting the growth of local investors, and setting standards that facilitate the deployment of the broadband network.
Moreover, the digital economy policy issued by the Council of Ministers Resolution No. (267) dated 14/5/1442 AH, highlighted the importance of digital infrastructure by highlighting that it is the "cornerstone of the digital economy". It is an enabler to the access and use of digital services. Therefore, the policy outlined the Kingdom's efforts to ensure high-speed internet to all sectors and segments of society and showcased KSA’s plan to stimulate investment by building strategic partnerships between public sector and service providers, and improve the efficiency of spending and operations through the harmonization and integration of national efforts, leveraging technical solutions, and setting the necessary frameworks for the governance of spending on technology and communications.
The Kingdom made significant leaps in its digital infrastructure in the past few years (e.g., fiber coverage reached 45% of households in 2022 vs 25% in 2017, while MBB speed reached 95Mbps in 2022 vs 11 Mbps in 2017). However, the sector is still facing several challenges. The Kingdom's geographical size and terrain diversity represents a challenge to expanding coverage due to increasing costs. On the other hand, the utilization of existing infrastructure remains limited due to low levels of infrastructure sharing.
Moreover, weak financial incentives to cover remote areas that are sparsely populated, low investment in research and development due to the lack of guidance and support, and limited reliance on renewable energy to operate digital infrastructure, especially data centers, are additional challenges facing the digital infrastructure in the Kingdom.
Finally, the lack of a strategic direction led to weak resilience of the digital infrastructure, low level of content localization, and a dependence on routes outside the Kingdom for Internet traffic.
To address these challenges and achieve the Kingdom's ambitions, there’s a need for the development of a comprehensive and effective policy that addresses these challenges holistically, direct and coordinate efforts related to digital infrastructure and ensure achieving the targets set by the Kingdom for this sector.
This policy has been developed to outline key pillars setting an overarching direction and acting as a reference for relevant stakeholders to harmonize all efforts in the development of the digital infrastructure and underscoring the Kingdom's unwavering commitment to harness the power of digital infrastructure for economic development and a better quality of life. Accordingly, the policy is designed around 5 key pillars: “Connectivity and Coverage”, “Digital Hub”, “Advanced Network Technologies”, “Healthy Digital Infrastructure market”, and “Resilience and Internet Ecosystem”.