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​Quenching the Thirst for Innovation: Are subsidies just a drop in the sea?

Mariana Dahan's picture
As the world is rapidly moving towards recasting development financing to meet the pressing needs of the post-2015 development agenda, the question of subsidies’ efficiency comes to light (again).
 
Source: www.ingimage.com

Should subsidies still be supported by countries, with donor funding, to help maintaining and streamlining service delivery in critical sectors, such as agriculture, energy and telecommunications? Debates have been ongoing for more than a decade.
 
But a recently published research work points out that well-targeted subsidies in the early stages of mobile technologies diffusion can play a determinant role in their massive adoption, helping to overcome initial confidence barriers, leveraging economies of scale, and, in the longer-term, triggering macroeconomic positive feedback mechanisms.

Evidence shows that information and communications technologies (ICT)  especially mobile telecommunications services  can lead to sustained economic growth and human development. Mobile telecommunications, without any doubt, have triggered many positive changes and impact in the developing world. They are by far the leading area of growth in the ICT sector. Because of this central role, mobile technologies are increasingly used as a transformational tool to foster economic growth, accelerate knowledge transfer, develop local capacities, raise productivity, and alleviate poverty in a variety of sectors.

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-Garcia'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-Garcia'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-Garcia'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.

Azerbaijan's broadband at a crossroads

Natalija Gelvanovska-Garcia's picture
View of Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo: David Davidson/flickr

Geographically and historically, Azerbaijan has often been at the crossroads: of trade routes, cultures, and influences. From a telecom policymaking standpoint, the country is currently at another important crossroad - this time having to choose from available regulatory approaches designed to pave the way for the high-speed broadband roll-out across the country.
 
Which regulatory framework is best to follow? Which country experience is closest to the needs of the Azerbaijani population and could provide for not only rapid but, more importantly, self-sustaining broadband market development?

Over the last year I had a chance to analyze the Azerbaijani broadband market, with my objective being the formulation of advice on the best way to stimulate the broadband market growth. In this blog I would like to briefly outline two relevant models of fixed broadband market development, either of which, from a quick glance, could be considered appealing for Azerbaijan because of a positive market growth trajectory and low consumer prices (the full analysis will be published soon). The models I am referring to are competition-led and government-led market development approaches, in the analysis they are represented by experiences of two oil-exporting economies, similar to Azerbaijan - Norway and Qatar.
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​Smart Africa returns – with a focus on Rwanda

Samia Melhem's picture
Rwandan President Paul Kagame (center) and Minister Jean Philbert
Nsengimana (left) work with children during the recent
"Smart Rwanda Days" conference in Kigali.
“Smart” is in. So is digital. According to President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, “digital innovation has leveled the playing field, making it easy for anyone from anywhere can compete in the global economy. Today, ideas do not have borders and therefore countries cannot be landlocked.”

Earlier this month, the Government of Rwanda convened a “Smart Rwanda Days” conference, bringing together participants from seven countries. During the two-day event, attendees were asked to “take the pulse” of digital development across Africa – as well as within their own countries – and then set concrete roles and responsibilities for current members of the Smart Africa alliance (Burkina Faso, Mali, South Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and Gabon). The event was co-sponsored by the International Telecommunications Union, the African Union and several private-sector companies.
  The Smart Rwanda Master Plan (SRMP), developed by the government in consultation with representatives of civil society and private sector, in February 2014, calls for better services to citizens through e-government and ICT education at all levels. The Plan includes a specific focuses on broadband networks and tertiary education, as well as fostering investments, innovation and creative local content to strengthen ICT. “Africa is on unstoppable move forward that tremendous progress is being made, but also the room for increasing speed and impact is limitless,” said Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Rwanda’s Minister for Youth and ICT.