Published on Digital Development

Broadband to the People

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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?


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