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Electricity and the internet: two markets, one big opportunity

Anna Lerner's picture
The markets for rural energy access and internet connectivity are ripe for disruption – and increasingly, we’re seeing benefit from combining the offerings.
 
Traditionally, power and broadband industries have been dominated by large incumbent operators, often involving a state-owned enterprise. Today, new business models are emerging, breaking market barriers to jointly provide energy access and broadband connectivity to consumers.
 
As highlighted in the World Development Report 2016, access to internet has the potential to boost growth, expand economic opportunities, and improve service delivery. The digital economy is growing at 10% a year—significantly faster than the global economy as a whole. Growth in the digital economy is even higher in developing markets: 15 to 25% per year (Boston Consulting Group).
 
To make sure everyone benefits, coverage needs to be extended to the roughly four billion people that still lack access to the internet. In a testing phase, Facebook has experimented with flying drones and Google has released balloons to provide internet to remote populations.
 
But as cool as they might sound, these innovations do nothing for the one billion people who still live off the grid… and don’t have access to the electricity you need to use the internet in the first place! The findings of the Internet Inclusion Summit panel which the World Bank joined recently put this nicely: “without electricity, internet is only a black hole”.
 
That’s why efforts to expand electricity and broadband access should go hand in hand: close coordination between the energy and ICT sectors is probably one of the most efficient and sensible ways of making sure rural populations in low-income countries can reap the benefits of digital development. This thinking is also reflected in a new generation of disruptive telecom infrastructure projects.

Watching Tanzania leapfrog the digital divide

Boutheina Guermazi's picture
 
Digital opportunities are the fuel of the new economy. They have significant impact on both the economy and society. They contribute to growth, create jobs, are a key enabler of increased productivity, and have significant impact on inclusion and poverty reduction. They also provide the ability to leapfrog and accelerate development in key sectors like health and education.
 
Why is this important?  It is important because “going digital” is not a temporary phenomenon. It is a revolution—what the World Economic Forum calls “the 4th industrial revolution”. It is happening before our eyes at a dizzying pace, disrupting every aspect of business, government and individuals’ lives. And it is happening in Tanzania.

Unleashing the transformative power of the internet

Pierre Guislain's picture



In the 1990s and early 2000s, the World Bank Group and other development partners actively promoted the mobile revolution, opening up telecommunication sectors that were largely monopolistic and state-owned.  The mobile phone, which was seen initially as a luxury good, became a key driver of growth and social inclusion in Africa, South Asia and throughout the world.

A peek at the media coverage of SDGs: What is it telling us?

Mauricio Ríos's picture

Pope Arrives in General Assembly Hall for His AddressThe United Nations General Assembly recently adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in New York in the midst of great expectation and hype. The 17 SDGs, with 169 specific targets, are now becoming the road map for governments and the international development community for the next 15 years.

Now that all the publicity and excitement are starting to settle down, it seems opportune to look at the media coverage of the SDGs and developing countries to get a sense of how that coverage has played out over the past few weeks, and what some of the insights are that we can learn from for the way forward. This coverage mainly includes articles from various publications, websites, and blog posts in the English language. It does not include social media statistics from Tweeter or Facebook.  

An analysis of this media coverage featuring the key words “SDGs” and “developing countries” show that, over the past three months, more than 2,400 articles mentioned these two key words somewhere in the text of the articles. The analysis, using the Newsplus database, covers the period July 8-October 8. It shows that almost a quarter of that coverage (more than 600 entries) took place during the last week of September when the UN meetings were held. However, the second week of July, right before the summer break, was also active in terms of SDG-related coverage, signaling an important communications effort in the lead up to the UN September meetings.

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Pushing water downhill: Considering ICT PPPs

Jeff Delmon's picture
Students using new high-speed Internet in Tonga. Photo: World Bank Group

For private financiers, official government support to information and communications technology (ICT) projects might seem like trying to push water downhill. After all, isn’t ICT incredibly profitable? What’s the point of a public-private partnership (PPP) in this sector, anyway?

Here’s the rest of that familiar argument: Government should stay out of the way and let the private sector carry the communications sector; it is a waste of effort and inefficient to try to push forward something that has its own momentum. Like a rushing river, the naysayers conclude, ICT needs no help advancing down its inevitable course.

It sounds reasonable in theory, but in practice, that approach just doesn’t work. The government needs to guide the river down the best course for the citizens it serves, building a weir or mill to help the river provide maximum benefits to the people who need it. And, just as water is the foundation of life, communication technologies are necessary to prosper in today’s world. Knowledge is power. And specifically, access to markets is improved by mobile phones, as is access to banking services, finance, investment opportunities, and education.

Successful ICT strategies usher in jobs, empowerment and economic growth.

Supporting the ICT sector in Somalia

Rachel Firestone's picture
 
Photo: Cilmi Waare/Radio Mogadishu

Somalia’s ICT sector – particularly mobile communications – is already one of the brightest spots in its economy. It could soon reach a tipping point where market competition, equitable distribution and demand-driven efficiency can grow exponentially and transform operating environments for both government and individual citizens.
 
Despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of a public sector presence in a 20-year civil war, private, unlicensed mobile companies, using satellite for international communications, have emerged to meet the high demand for communications, especially with the large Somali diaspora. In terms of mobile penetration rates, Somalia is a leader in the region, with higher rates and lower prices than neighboring Djibouti and Ethiopia, which both enjoy higher levels of stability but retain state-owned monopolies.
 
However, the current lack of a legal framework for both the ICT and financial sectors is a source of risk potentially cramping the Somali economy. Critical areas – including remittances, mobile banking and mobile-money services and mobile services – are influenced and, in some cases, controlled by large companies. The market structure is still evolving, with de facto consolidation around larger companies, resulting from mergers and alliances. Although consolidation can bring some consumer benefits and help in achieving economies of scale, the future licensing framework will need to take into account competition policy considerations and enforce interconnection.
 
An important opportunity for the passing of regulation for the ICT sector, in the form of Somalia’s Communications Act, is now at hand.

Baltički autoput podataka: Kada ćemo mi imati balkanski?

Natalija Gelvanovska's picture
Izvor fotografije: Data Logistics Center
Pre par meseci su Estonija, Letonija i Litvanija završile petogodišnju gradnju Baltičkog autoputa – kičme širokopojasne mreže koja koristi prednosti postojećih optičkih kablova koji poseduju tri baltička energetska postrojenja. Optička kičma dugačka 3000km prolazi kroz baltički region povezujući nove mega centre za podatke u severnoj Evropi Talinu sa čvorištem za podatke zapadne Evrope u Frankfurtu i ima mogućnost daljeg povezivanja sa Rusijom i Belorusijom. Izgradnja i funkcionisanje baltičkog autoputa je odličan primer regionalne saradnje i zajedničke infrastrukture.
 
Baltički autoput je proizvod nekoliko aktera - Data Logistics Center (deo od Lietuvos Energija, državne holding kompanije litvanskih snabdevača energijom), Latvenergo (državne kompanije za električnu energiju u Letoniji), i Televõrk (podružnica privatne energetske firme Eesti Energia iz Estonije). Za razliku od drugih ova mreža je građena tako što su kablovi sa optičkim vlaknima polagani preko visokonaponskih dalekovoda i gasovoda koji pripadaju energetskim kompanijama, umesto korišćenja različitih segmenata operatera za telekomunikacije koji su već bili “priheftani”. Sada klijenti baltičkog autoputa imaju mogućnost da koriste regionalnu infrastrukturu iz jedne tačke.

Autostrada Baltike e të dhënave: Kur do e ketë Ballkani një të tillë?

Natalija Gelvanovska's picture
Foto nga: Data Logistics Center
Para disa muajve, Estonia, Letonia dhe Lituania kanë përfunduar ndërtimin 5 vjeçar të autostradës së Baltikut - rrjet backbone i broadbandit (brezit të gjerë) i cili shfrytëzon asetet e kabllos optike të tri kompanive energjetike Baltike. Backboni fibër pa nyje prej 3000 km që përshkon tërë regjionin e Baltikut, lidhë mega qendrat e të dhënave të Evropës së veriut në Talin me hubat e të dhënave të Evropës perëndimore në Frankfurt dhe ka mundësinë e zgjerimit të lidhjes me Rusinë dhe Bjellorusinë. Ndërtimi dhe operimi i autostradës së Baltikut është shembull i shkëlqyeshëm i bashkëpunimit regjional dhe i bashkëndarjes së infrastrukturës.
 
Autostrada Baltike është krijuar nga Data Logistics Center (pjesë e Lieuvas Energija, kompani shtetërore aksionare e furnizuesit Lituanez të energjisë), Latvenergo (kompani energjetike shtetërore e Letonisë), dhe Televork (subsidiar i firmës private energjetike Eesti Energia në Estoni). Për dallim nga të tjerët, ky rrjet është ndërtuar duke shtruar kabllon optike përgjatë linjave energjetike të tensionit të lartë dhe gypat e gazit të cilat i përkasin kompanive energjetike, e nuk janë përdorur segmentet e ndryshme të rrjeteve të operatorëve të telekomit të cilat janë të "arnuar së bashku". Tani klientët e Autostradës së Baltikut kanë mundësinë e shfrytëzimit të infrastrukturës regjionale pa nyje nga nj pikë e vetme.

Now that there's a Baltic Data Highway, when will we have one for the Balkans?

Natalija Gelvanovska's picture
Photo credit: Data Logistics Center
In January, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania finished the five-year construction of the Baltic Highway – a broadband backbone network that takes advantage of fiber-optic assets from three Baltic energy and utility entities. The Highway is a seamless fiber backbone of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) across the Baltic region, connecting Northern Europe’s new mega-data centers in Tallinn to Western Europe's data hub in Frankfurt, Germany, with the possibility of extending connections to Russia and Belarus.

The construction and operation of the Baltic Highway is a great example of regional cooperation and infrastructure sharing — and there are many lessons we can learn from it.
 
The Baltic Highway was created by Data Logistics Center (part of Lietuvos Energija, a state-owned holding company of Lithuanian energy suppliers), Latvenergo (a state-owned electric utility company in Latvia) and Televõrk (a subsidiary of private energy firm Eesti Energia in Estonia). Unlike previous data highways, this network was built by laying optical fiber over high-voltage electricity lines and gas pipelines that belong to energy companies, as opposed to using different segments of telecommunications networks that have been “stitched together.” Today, Baltic Highway clients have the opportunity to utilize one seamless regional infrastructure system from a single point.

What would it take to implement a similar project in the Balkans?

Mobile services: a game-changer for the greater good

Pierre Guislain's picture
Mobile services are the extension services of inclusion.  Increasingly, the world’s poor – and especially the bottom 40 percent in terms of income – are being reached via mobile devices by government agencies, development partners, banks, companies and others. 

As we extend networks, and in particular broadband, to reach more isolated populations and the bottom 40 percent, we need to foster the development of relevant content in substance (including government services) as well as form (including pictorial and video information for the illiterate).

 
Mobile-money services like M-Pesa have 
helped bring banking to millions in 
developing countries. Photo: Ventures Africa 
The private sector is the key driver of this entire change process, which government should facilitate.
 
The acceleration of technological change – with mobile is at the forefront – is leading to increased convergence between networks, devices, services and content providers. Judging from what I saw and heard during last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona,  my sense is that telecommunications regulation (as  practiced today) will soon become obsolete, overshadowed by the importance of ensuring an overall balance and flexibility in this broader, converging market. 

Consequently, institutions like the World Bank will need to find better ways to ensure that key regulators talk to each other and work towards the greater public good. This includes not only telecom and competition authorities, but also broadcasting, financial services and other regulatory bodies. We should facilitate these conversations between regulators, especially in view of the fast-growing involvement of telecommunications entities in the mobile money space.

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