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Broadband to the People

Arturo Muente-Kunigami's picture

The first country to declare broadband internet access a legal right was Finland back in October. A month later, Spain also guaranteed the legal right to broadband. Both countries have committed to make connections of at least 1Mbps available to every citizen at affordable prices by 2011.

But these two cases only reflect what has been going on during the last couple of years in many countries. In some cases, governments have started very ambitious projects aiming at extending the reach of broadband connections to all areas of their countries.

Take, for example, Australia. The Government of Australia announced back in April a A$43 billion (US$30 billion aprox.) plan to build Australia's new National Broadband Network, arguably the biggest infrastructure project in the country's history. The first step was to create NBN Co Limited, with the mandate to build and operate the National Broadband Network.

The UK, on the other hand, introduced the Digital Economy Bill on November 20. Among other things to be introduced, and described in the Digital Britain report, the Government proposed the creation of a Next Generation Fund that will help deliver next generation broadband services to all of the homes and small businesses in the country, similar to what Universal Service Funds have been doing in developing countries to extend provision of telecommunications services.

In the case of the US, the National Broadband Plan was included in The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and will be launched in 69 days (and counting).

It is important to mention that this is not a trend exclusive to developed countries. In Africa, the World Bank Group is supporting the deployment of national backbone networks in many countries (see, for example, the Regional Communications Infrastructure Program - RCIP). The rationale behind these initiatives is that broadband connectivity is a critical component of sustainable development, and improve productivity and competitivity of local firms, let alone the abysmal increase in the quality of the services that Governments can provide over such networks.

That being said, many observers are still wondering in the sidelines, trying to figure out whether such massive investments are worth making. Governments that started long ago and that have a head start over the others (someone said Korea?) did so with less hard evidence than what is available today, and are now reaping the fruits of those early investments.

The question on whether a country should be investing in developing a National Broadband Network is not relevant anymore. They have to. The real question is: How?

Comments

Submitted by anonymous on
I know inviting MNCs into developing countries can be a touchy subject, but this might be an area where they can truly be of assistance. Intel for instance has their WiMAX technology ( http://www.intel.com/technology/wimax/ ) which has been quite effective at bringing WiFi to rural areas at relatively inexpensive costs. Maybe developing countries can rely on FDI arrangements as a means of expanding broadband access, but at the same time leave some of the transmission/distribution of broadband under the authority of the national government. Could such an arrangement be feasible?

You are right, Anonymous. Public-private Partnerships - PPPs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public/private_partnership) are probably the most effective and efficient means to achieve ambitious broadband coverage objectives. Through PPPs Governments are able to transfer risks to private parties and usually share most of the financing of the infrastructure. However, as with every arrangement between two parties, a good contract (i.e. deal design) is key. PPPs have been widely (and wildly) used, and in many cases trade-offs that are part of the deal have not been acknowledged and / or addressed during their design. Bear in mind that the devil - as the proverb says - is in the details.

Submitted by Sanjay P. Sood on
My thoughts too are in sync. PPP model is most effective and efficient means to achieve ambitious broadband coverage objectives and other socially relevant objectives at large scale. As regards "HOW?" I would like to cite the case of India, this case in point also throws some light on the aspect of utilisation / applications of broadband. India's National eGovernance Plan (NeGP) [http://mit.gov.in/default.aspx?id=115] envisages to create & support IT infrastructure (National/State Wide Area Networks, National/State Data Centres, and Common Services Centres & Electronic Service Delivery Gateways). Over two-thirds of Indian population still resides in villages and over 100,000 Common Services Centres (CSCs) form the core of NeGP and these CSCs aim to provide these IT enabled services to 600,000 Indian villages. Besides providing cost-effective video, voice, data content and services CSCs will also provide eHealth and telemedicine services to the Indian rural populace. More information about CSCs including the implementation frameworks is available at (http://www.csc-india.org/). I hope the information addresses "How?" :) and i suppose some other developing countries too are working / planning similar approaches.

I donot agree with the observations on PPP as the most effective method. In my submission it has to be either Private Sector or the Government Sector which should take the responsibility and a combined responsibility appears to be no one's responsibility. Take for example the CSC initiative - the example quoted in above case. The PPP partners have already rolled out over 60,837 CSCs of the 11,0,286 CSCs planned. (http://www.mit.gov.in/download/CSC040210.pdf) but it has been reported that these CSCs are lying without use. The state/ centre / local Governments are not prepared to offer the e-Government services which were planned through these CSCs. In absence of Government Services these CSCs are no good than rural cyber cafes with no internet savvy clients in the region. And therefore there are virtually no services which are offered through these CSCs. It is said that due to no revenues the private sector players have started backing out and there are some terminations of SCAs as well. Establishment of the front ends in rural villages without the back-end integration of services was itself a bad planning in first place. With the claim of establishing over 60,000 CSC the e-Government services should have already reached the fifty percent of rural Indian population where as there are no impact assessments / independent audits to justify the same. The only claims are coming from the website of www.csi-india.org and the ground level verification must be done to ascertain the authenticity of these claims. Further the cancellation of SCA in Haryana and Tripura must be looked into detail.

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